I had expected the premiere of David Sieveking’s David Wants to Fly to be a modest proceeding. The premise of the documentary — recent film school grad devotes himself to Transcendental Meditation because David Lynch tells him to — is ridiculous.
I had expected the premiere of David Sieveking’s David Wants to Fly to be a modest proceeding. The premise of the documentary — recent film school grad devotes himself to Transcendental Meditation because David Lynch tells him to — is ridiculous. There couldn’t be that many people who would skip Still Alive in Gaza for it.
I arrived late, then spent ten minutes looking for a seat. The place was packed. Eventually I squeezed myself between a slight grey-haired man and a boisterous couple who traded Lynch anecdotes as a Hot Docs programmer took the stage. “So, how many of you are here for your interest in Transcendental Meditation?” he asked. The small man next to me and a few others raised their hands. “And how many of you are here for your interest in David Lynch?” Hands shot up like reeds around the theatre. There was even some whooping. Of course! This was a Lynch fan event.
David Wants to Fly is about whackos (David Lynch), lost film school grads (David Sieveking), and exploitation (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his “TM movement”). It’s told through Sieveking’s personal narrative: He wants to make great movies, like his idol, David Lynch. At home in Berlin, he hears of a TM conference at Fairfield, Iowa’s Maharishi Peace Palace where Lynch will be speaking about, or rather advocating for, the practice.
David Lynch is way into TM. Maybe David Sieveking should be way into TM, too. After too many scenes of Sieveking being quirky (he can’t work the iron; he and his girlfriend wear silly hats), he heads to the conference to find out. Soon our hero is interviewing Lynch, who expounds in his shockingly nasal voice on the value of Transcendental Meditation while making spirit fingers. TM is to be credited with his success as a filmmaker and a human being, he tells us. It’s blown his mind. Everyone should do it, he says, “because people are suffocating inside these rubber clouds of negativity.” The rubber is stinky. And why do people want to be clouds, anyway?
Sieveking is convinced. Back in Berlin, off he goes to the local TM centre, where he brings the required offerings (roses, fruit, a white handkerchief, and €2,380) and receives the special mantra that he is to repeat soundlessly to himself twice a day for twenty minutes. Things do get better for him — he feels relaxed, he gets funding for his movie — until they get worse. His film, on the other hand, tromps along assuredly. TM is a gold mine of a subject. The Maharishi, who died in early 2008, was abusive, amateurish, kind, hypocritical, holy, powerful, and revered as a god. His movement’s leaders dress like King Friday XIII on Mr. Rogers; its administration collects truckloads of money from followers while promising such treasures as peace on earth and invincibility for Germany.
As a filmmaker, Sieveking handles it all with a touching amount of respect. He keeps us convinced that he wants to believe in TM — at least until it’s exposed as devilishly corrupt — but can’t force himself to accept it. This lends a sweet and genuine tone to what could easily have been just cynical comedy or public flogging. In the end, Sieveking’s — and David Wants to Fly‘s — greatest concern is finding real spirituality, a goal that leads him on an epic hike through the Himalayas towards the source of the Ganges. The camera work is deft and the landscapes look phenomenal, and when the director is finally splashing around in the mythical mountain pool we understand what he was looking for: something to refresh, calm, invigorate, and inspire. The real thing was ultimately harder to attain, but at least it was free.