Film Reviews

‘Becoming Nobody’ is Chicken Soup for One

Ram Dass portrait is only for the converted


Becoming Nobody
(USA, 80 min.)
Dir. Jamie Catto

Audiences can find a zen place with Becoming Nobody. This portrait doc profiles the life and philosophy of Ram Dass, the self-help guru and spiritual teacher whose complex ideas have changed many lives throughout his career. Among those converted by Ram Dass include Becoming Nobody director Jamie Catto, who displays clear admiration for his subject and mentor in the film. The doc unpacks the wealth of Ram Dass’s ideas, his journey to enlightenment, his experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and his transition from being a man of science to a man of faith.

Catto uses an extensive range of archival footage to portray his subject’s arc from academic and clinical psychologist Richard Alpert to the guru known as Ram Dass. In addition to the material, which showcases Ram Dass’s gift for public speaking and his charismatic appeal, Catto puts himself in conversation with the spiritual leader with an in-depth awkwardly-shot interview that invites Ram Dass to immerse Catto in his philosophies. Viewers who follow Ram Dass’s teachings, or are susceptible to such rambling hyperbolic feel-good niceties, will inevitably appreciate this 80-minute portrait. But it’s unlikely to bring Ram Dass any new followers.

Catto clearly knows his subject well — Becoming Nobody is his fourth documentary about Ram Dass—and one could say that his comfort with Ram Dass, as well as his admiration for him, are as much to the detriment of the film as they are to its enlightenment. The portrait is pure hagiography. While Catto and Ram Dass obviously have a strong relationship, the interview is simply a soft and respectful platform for the subject to reiterate his views. Catto’s demeanor veers upon adulation, which doesn’t help a skeptical viewer find the chicken soup any more palatable. Becoming Nobody is cinematic soup for one, as Catto’s ladling the noodles only for himself.

Becoming Nobody opens at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Sept. 6.