" You’re nothing but a pair of dancing shoes! "
— Judy Garland (to Fred Astaire), Easter Parade

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The Great Train Robbery

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Is the story in a documentary told by the filmmaker, or is it a story told by the subject through a filmmaker? Is the filmmaker there simply to record events, or also to shape them? Obviously, the answer is different for each movie, but those are some of the issues beneath the surface of Enlighten Up!, “a skeptic’s journey into the world of yoga.”

How Does That Make You Feel?

Nick turns the director's expectations on their head
Nick turns the director’s expectations on their head

Filmmaker Kate Churchill sets out to prove to Nick Rosen, her subject (“straight out of central casting,” a friend remarked on his photogenic face and carelessly perfect hair), that yoga is good for the soul, and not just for the body.

Kate and Nick travel the world searching for the one true Yoga. Nick tries every variety they can find while Kate watches, shoots, and debriefs. They experiment with hot yoga, stretchy yoga, Indian yoga, oriental yoga, American yoga, even laughter yoga.

To my delight, Nick reports how yoga affects his body, his habits, and his moods, but he refuses to say that it transcends the physical world into something metaphysical. To this self-described skeptic, Kate seems to be trying to prove that God exists and can be found through yoga, but Nick refuses to cede the point.

Them’s Fightin’ Words

Perhaps the most interesting scenes come late in the movie as Kate, frustrated with her subject’s lack of spirituality, starts to argue with Nick. Ironically, the movie had been set up as an experiment to prove to Nick (and by extension, the rest of us skeptics) that there is a Higher Power and that yoga is more than stretching, exercise, and relaxation. But when her experiment returns different results, rather than accept them, Kate attacks Nick for not having the right experiences. She seems to believe that the fault must lie in him rather than in her own hypothesis.

I found myself disliking and mistrusting Kate for being so obstinate and closed-minded. She had obviously hand-picked a charismatic subject to help sell her message. But when that subject offers her something unexpected, she can’t accept it. It reveals a filmmaker less interested in the truth and more interested in advancing her personal agenda. It made me question all of her assertions and her conclusions. In short, it poisoned any sway the documentary might have had with me.

Ironically, without the ideological battle between documentarian and subject, Enlighten Up!would have been an even less interesting movie. As it is, it offers insight into the power relationship between a reporter and a subject. Without that, the film would have been a sequence of scenes about different flavors of yoga, which probably wouldn’t have held my interest at all.

I can’t in good conscience recommend Enlighten Up!But I do give Churchill credit for including her own obstinacy in the movie rather than editing it all out.

Maybe she learned something after all.