You can be forgiven for puzzling over the first 30 minutes of “People v. The State of Illusion.” An odd blend of documentary, docu-drama and motivational speech, the question “What are they trying to sell me here?” leaps to mind more than once.
It’s a self-help movie, sort of a self-actualization project built around changing our way of perceiving ourselves. Think of it as a “What the Bleep Do We Know?” that goes lighter on the messy metaphysics, a Billy Graham docu-drama that doesn’t end with an altar call.
Lawyer/motivational speaker/yoga instructor Austin Vickers made this, and narrates, infomercial style, interjecting his thoughts on both the melodrama used as an object lesson in the movie’s message and the thoughts of the lineup of experts, many of them authors dominating the fuzzy logic side of the self-help best seller lists — “The Molecules of Emotion,” “Evolve Your Brain” and the like.
Vickers uses the story of “Aaron Roberts” (actor J.D. Tuttle) as his teaching tool here, a recreation of a DUI accident that killed someone and Roberts’ slow, prison-driven acceptance of responsibility for that accident thanks to a Gandhi-quoting janitor (Michael McCormick) who stops by his cell.
Authors and psychologists give testimony about how changing the reality, the way you see the world, will set you free and make you accept the things that are part of your lot in life. You’ll stop blaming others and break down the “literal and figurative prison walls” of your life, Vickers & Co. preach.
It’s a squishy subject to try and get your mind around, much less convey in a movie. But with every cadenza in its laughably over-dramatic score, every confident, self-satisfied appearance by Vickers, “People v. The State of Illusion” attempts to convince us and convince itself that it is actually saying something. At least it pays lip service to personal accountability, to how stress impacts everything from health to marriage.
But as we wander from here to there, it’s hard to fight off the sneaking suspicion there’s no “there” there.
At the conclusion, Vickers gives many of his interview subjects the chance to sum up their philosophy of life with a “If you had a minute before you died to tell the world something” question before the film’s closing credits. Most of them serve up the tired bromides of a high school graduation speak — “Love one another.”
Noble, aspirational, but not inspiring or original. “People v. The State of Illusion” seems headed for a late-night TV slot near you, sandwiched between Chia pet commercials.
MPAA Rating: unrated
Cast: J. B. Tuttle, Michael McCormick, narrator Austin Vickers
Credits: Directed by Austin Vickers, an Exalt Films release.
Running time: 1:20