AWAKE: THE LIFE OF YOGANANDA (Paola di Florio, Lisa Leeman). 87 minutes. Opens Friday (December 5). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
Awake: The Life Of Yogananda is the kind of hagiography you’d expect to find in a gift shop at a New Age store. If you’re into yoga, a devotee of Eastern religion and interested in the man who helped bring both to the west, this is for you. Otherwise, amidst all the praise by devotees and total lack of dissenting voices, you may feel that several lifetimes have passed before it ends.
Born in 1893 in Gorakhpur, India (the current Uttar Pradesh), Paramahansa Yogananda was a sensitive, spiritual boy. He lived a seemingly normal childhood until two events happened: at 11, he had a premonition of his mother’s death, and at 17, he finally located his guru, Swami Yukteswar Giri, whom he recognized from his dreams. Years later, he got a calling to spread his philosophy to the west.
All of these events are recounted in his bestselling Autobiography Of A Yogi, which we’re told was the only book found on Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’s iPad when he died. Other famous followers of Yogananda’s philosophy include Ravi Shankar (cue some plucking of the sitar on the soundtrack) and Beatle George Harrison – the end credit music is, of course, Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth).
Directors Paola di Florio and Lisa Leeman have a tough time shaping the material, relying mostly on calm talking heads and cheesy re-enactments. But whenever the yogi is seen or heard – archival recordings of some of his speeches survive – you get a sense of his magnetism.
And there are some fascinating sections about Yogananda’s time in America, where he was welcomed to the White House by Calvin Coolidge and sought after by open-minded Californians as well as targeted by the KKK.
His non-aggressive philosophy of self-realization is still alive and well, but it deserves a film with more energy and focus than this.