Hot Docs 2010: David Wants To Fly

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“Sieveking explores the TM phenomenon via his adoration for Lynch, and what starts off as a deeply annoying exercise in overdone idol worship turns into a pretty funny and highly-critical look at the TM organization.”

David Wants to Fly

Directed by David Sieveking

A couple of years ago, I got a David Lynch CD for Christmas.  It was the audio version of his book Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity. The audiobook (which Lynch narrates) describes the beginnings of his longtime practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM) and how said practice helped him shed his “suffocating rubber clown suit of negativity” to “dive into an ocean of pure consciousness” and “fish” for ideas.

Just so you know, the whole audiobook is like that, and by “that” I mean “casually weird and vaguely spiritual and all the more entertaining for it”.  As of the writing of this review, I’ve listened to the whole thing about a dozen times, not because it offers any tangible guidance, but because it’s just so calming listening to him talk.  To me, David Lynch is like a tranquil noisemaker-voiced mid-western yogi.  His weirdness always seemed to be an extension of a deep sense of self-acceptance, something pretty rare in this sea of insecurity we call twenty-first century pop culture.

So it’s a little unsettling to see him look so cornered in David Wants to Fly, the uneven but engrossing doc by first-time director David Sieveking.  In it, Sieveking explores the TM phenomenon via his adoration for Lynch, and what starts off as a deeply annoying exercise in overdone idol worship turns into a pretty funny and highly-critical look at the TM organization.

First of all, it should be noted that the David in the title is not Lynch, but Sieveking.  The premise is that Sieveking is a struggling former film school brat, still mooching off his parents while trying to figure out how to make his first feature.  Since he’s always admired David Lynch, he decides to attend a talk the filmmaker is holding about Transcendental Meditation.  Sieveking goes and is hooked by the promise of spiritual and creative awakening.  (For those new to TM, I wish I could give you a clear idea as to what it actually is.  Founded by Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi – a.k.a. the Beatles’ guru – it’s based on the practice of repeating a secret Sanskrit “mantra” for about twenty minutes a day.  Your “mantra” is assigned to you via this uber secret ceremony conducted by trained TM teachers etc. etc…you can google their official website, if you want, though my conclusion, and the conclusion of David Wants to Fly, is that it’s an organization based on selling spirituality.  I say, stick to yoga.)

Making himself the main character of his own film, Sieveking initially comes off as rather self-important.  He cuts too often to his insincere-looking reaction shots and there’s a whole subplot involving his relationship with his girlfriend that I think the film could’ve done without.  But he grows on you.  When the film makes the eventual turn to becoming critical of TM (and by extension, of Lynch) Sieveking proves himself to be an adept investigator and, when it comes to Lynch, a better-than-average stalker.  Like most of the people in the theatre with me, I was mostly interested in the Lynch factor and we are treated to a couple of interviews that show the normally self-assured filmmaker in an uncomfortable light.  When cornered with the questionable business practices of the organization that he is promoting, Lynch appears confused, lost and even frail.  You feel sorry for the guy because although his devotion to this practice is probably sincere, having it questioned so openly brings up truths he can’t ignore.

But here I am, talking endlessly about Lynch like some raving fan.  Of course he is the catalyst to the plot and if you enjoy Lynch as either a filmmaker or personality, I’d recommend this film if only to show that our idols are easily fallible.  The heart of the story, though, speaks of that journey we all take, wading through flashy philosophies until we come upon a true sense of what we actually believe.  Sieveking may not begin likeable or sincere-sounding, but in light of what he discovers about TM and about himself, you end up rooting for him.  Or, at least, I did.  Not bad for a first feature, I say.  I wish David (both of them) the best of luck.

– Lena Duong

  1. Irina says

    Lena, Fantastic review! Very even-handed and informative, exactly the sort of thing one needs to read to decide whether or not to see a film. Thank you!

    1. Lena says

      Gosh. Thanks, Irina.

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