People v. the State of Illusion: Film Review

An awkward mix of nonfiction and drama that’s nonetheless built upon intriguing concepts about untapped human potential.

Centered on the mental prisons we create for ourselves, the movie features a collection of authorities in neuroscience, biochemistry and psychology.

The latest entry in the What the Bleep Do We Know school of filmmaking, People v. the State of Illusion assembles worthwhile ideas about self-actualization in an ungainly hybrid of talking-head documentary, dramatic enactment and computer-generated effects. The movie features an impressive collection of authorities in neuroscience, biochemistry and psychology, and shouldn’t be lumped into the same bin of noxious inanity as The Secret. New Age seekers and quantum physics enthusiasts will form its core audience, with word of mouth crucial as it continues its rollout in select markets, adding Los Angeles on April 27.

In his first film project, writer-producer Austin Vickers, a trial lawyer turned self-described leadership training expert, appears onscreen as a guide to the statistics and philosophies that support his case against an out-of-balance, unfulfilled life. Efficiently directed by Scott Cervine, Illusion proceeds with a grounded sense of urgency about the mental prisons we create for ourselves — and uses an all-too-literal mini-saga about a man in prison to illustrate its message.

This fictional element, entirely unconvincing through no fault of the actors,
concerns an overworked, self-medicated single father (J.B. Tuttle) who’s sentenced to six years in a penitentiary for vehicular manslaughter and a number of other charges. His story, intercut with the informational material, is designed to be inspirational, tracing one (symbolic) man’s evolution from stuck to enlightened. Guiding his smooth-as-silk awakening is a Gandhi-quoting janitor (Michael McCormick), a construct that’s easier to buy than the guard (Kevin McDonald) who comes to view him as a mentor.

The enactment is not only an awkward interruption of a mostly compelling discussion but an unnecessary one. Vickers’ thesis and the arguments of his “expert witnesses” might not be thrilling cinema, but they communicate a number of provocative and intriguing ideas with clarity.

Revolving around concepts in brain science, the film is a motivational primer in human potential, asserting the possibility of change without delving into the nitty-gritty of making it happen. As vague as some of the interviewees’ prescriptions can be, they do at least, for the most part, avoid the New Age mantra of “manifesting.” Illusion works as an informed conversation on the ways our beliefs and neurological/emotional patterns limit us and can be destructive, and it frames such familiar modern-day maladies as consumerism, addiction and chronic stress in a potentially helpful new light.

Opens: Friday, April 27 (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
An Intention Media/Movies from the Heart presentation in association with Exalt Films
Cast: J.B. Tuttle, Michael McCormick, Kevin McDonald, Tad Jones, Melanie Lindahl, Amy Baklini
With: Joe Dispenza, Debbie Ford, Brenda Dunne, Robert Jahn, Thomas Moore, Candace Pert, Peter Senge, Mike Vandermark
Director: Scott Cervine
Producer-writer: Austin Vickers
Directors of photography: David Fisher (narrative), Jeff Halperin (interviews)
Editor: Scott Cervine
No MPAA rating, 86 minutes