Follow That Bliss! by David Bax
One of the things that makes reviewing movies interesting is the fact that not all bad movies are alike. There are, in fact, many ways in which a film can be bad. Take, for example, Patrick Takaya Solomon’s new documentary, Finding Joe, which is a sort of two for one combo. Not only is it laughably misguided and poorly constructed as a film, it also happens to be about a really stupid subject.
Finding Joe is, for a few seconds at least, about Joseph Campbell, the mythologist who studied and wrote about the stories we humans tell and have told for thousands of years. His writings about the structure of the hero’s journey have, as this documentary explains to us, inspired some of the biggest and most popular stories of the last 40 years, from Star Wars to The Matrix. Unfortunately, he is also responsible for coining the annoying and practically nonsensical phrase, “Follow your bliss.”
It’s this latter version of Campbell that clearly sparked the filmmaker’s interest and it quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t actually a documentary about this interesting man but a celebration of the weird and vaguely New Age-ish cult of personality that surrounds his legacy. The film is stuffed with talking heads, people telling you how following their bliss and doing all the other meaningless things Campbell said changed their lives and how it could do the same for you. By applying the hero’s journey mythological structure to their own lives and breaking it down into what seems to be about 200 simple steps, these advocates manage to make it seem simultaneously way too complicated and way too easy to find the path to whatever the hell it is their path leads to.
In between these shots of weirdoes talking crazy with untrustworthy smiles plastered on their faces are hokey dramatizations that together form a loose illustration of the journey. These scenes feature a blond, white kid (there are a lot of white people in this documentary) literalizing Campbell’s ideas by walking around with a cape on and swinging a toy sword at other kids in monster masks. In order to clue you in to the fact that you’re not supposed to be laughing at all this, Solomon has poured on a thick and syrupy layer of cheesy, faux-inspirational piano music.
To inspect with any depth the testimonials of the film’s interviewees is to discover a common thread. Most of these people became rich and successful before coming to embrace Campbell’s philosophies. While hard work and perseverance are often necessary for success, the difficult truth is that one generally requires an equal dose of dumb luck. Ways of thinking like Campbell’s can be applied retroactively, allowing these people to explain to themselves why they deserve their good fortune.
Perhaps it’s unfair to be so mean to the participants of Finding Joe. They’re happy people and they want others to be happy, too. However, I can’t help getting angry at the disingenuous notion that it’s anywhere near as simple as these few folks make it seem. Though they don’t ask for any money, this comes across more as a commercial or recruitment video than a movie. Campbell’s followers may not be making much profit by showing you this film but that doesn’t mean they’re not selling you a bill of goods.