I Am Not Your Guru (2016)

Random Dude No.1: “If you don’t step up and be that person, she’s never going to find him…” Random Dude No.2: “F**k dat! f**k dat!” Both of these guys are in each others faces, in the free-for-all that is a Tony Robbins convention crowd. They don’t know each other from Adam, but its the last day of the seminar and they feel a need to impersonate the man on the stage who’s been in everyone’s face for the past few days. He stares into the eyes of strangers and demands they change for the better. F**k this! f**k that!..what is this f**king shit?!

But change takes time or at least a calm, peaceful atmosphere that is conducive to spiritual/psychological breakthroughs. Dropping F bombs with the regularity of the US air force over Iraq is not going to solve your deep-rooted karma. Despite the title, Tony Robbins is demanding to be your guru. With all the subtlety of a heavy metal concert. What Robbins gives is an adrenaline rush. That’s it. One very long rah-rah pep talk. In essence, what director Joe Berlinger has made is a concert movie that alternates smoothly between Robbins’ ritualized prep routine and his fist-pumping entries and exits. The close-ups of Robbins’ thrusting interactions with select audience members fill us in on the man’s particular charisma: a mesmerizing brew of kindness and bullying peppered with rhythmic repetitions of the f-word that seem to have the effect of paralyzing his subjects into submission.

Being six feet seven inches tall also helps to browbeat his audience into seeing things Tony’s way. With his jutting granite jaw, feral grin and manic energy, Robbins eerily recalls Burt Lancaster’s spiritualist con-man in Elmer Gantry. He is just as all-American. For all his protestations to Berlinger that he “goes by instinct,” you can’t help but notice that a disproportionate number of his audience picks are attractive women, whose confessions of anything from diet problems to appalling sexual abuse earn them homilies book-ended by very long hugs. In one embarrasingly awkward sequence Robbins commands a woman who’s unsure of her relationship to call her fiancé on her cell phone and break up with him on the spot. Then there is the suicidal German guy – bloody good TV at its most buttock-clenching. These were the first of many cringing moments I had to endure over the next 2 hours. I couldn’t look away from these fools who happily handed over $5,000 to be publicly shamed.

Throw in a vacuous hippie and a weak guy dragged there by his girly friend (Tony commands him to roar like a “lion” which the guy finds difficult to stop doing once he starts) and you’ve got the whole picture. I feel so alienated and un-American when I see Americans willing to spill their guts in public. *Shudder* Then the weeping and the screaming starts. (I think this behaviour should be called out as un-American. Maybe then they’ll stop doing all those Jerry Springer/Oprah theatrics and just get on with their lives) Robbins has also been sued for plagiarism, and his post-recession excursion into financial advising has been variously written off as banal, uninformed or perniciously misleading. Tony Robbins is the ultimate guru for losers, simpletons and bored celebrities. Those familiar with director Berlinger’s other work may be surprised at his credulous embrace of a man who is his own vast corporation, and who’s been dogged by accusations of profiting from the suffering of vulnerable others. As for presenting an infomercial here as a documentary – that’s dishonest.

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