Crazy Wisdom: The Life and Times of Chogyam Trunpa (2011)

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If you watch the trailer, you get hyped about the fascinating controversy that was Chogyam Trungpa.  He was founder of several monasteries, the now thriving Shambala press and Naropa University, as well as an endlessly creative and charismatic individual.  He was also an open alcoholic, womanizer and, it turns out, a cocaine addict.  He died of liver cirrhosis. From the beginning of the actual documentary, however, one begins to worry that a new-age hagiography is about to be spun.  We learn of how Chogyam Trungpa understood that the West was too materialistic, that he went to England and various people met him and knew that he was special.  Fortunately, the filmmakers were willing to delve into the more controversial aspects of Chogyam’s guru-ship.  But the main reason I kept watching was because I started to think that they might not.

The film is – and I’m sorry to say this – put together in an amateurish sort of way.  And I’m not referring to the fact that it doesn’t seem to have been color-graded, for example.  It’s the fact that there is no ‘thread’, no central argument that carries the narrative through.   Interviews occur with people who we don’t really ever get to know, who say things which do not seem to be relevant to the topic at hand.  It’s hard to stay focused.   Certain very intriguing subjects pique one’s interest, and are then abandoned.  There are interviews with his many former lovers and their feelings towards him, or his creation of a Buddhist military.  These are briefly skimmed over before returning to yet another former discipline saying yet another pat thing about how special he was.

I like to think that Chogyam Trungpa would himself have preferred to see a film where there were some interviewees who would decry him as a charlatan, because there are plenty of them out there.  Also, a film which would have addressed the controversy of his appointed successor knowingly infecting people with HIV.  As I understood the closing remarks, Chogyam Trungpa’s life’s work was to encourage people not to limit themselves to ideas of how they want to be or should be. And yet,  this film manages to be an occasionally objective, but rather boring paean to a multi-faceted and intriguing character.

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