Peaceful Warrior (Victor Salva)
As with most people who’ve read great books, I felt a sense of excitement mixed with a lingering, cringing feeling about what filmmakers were going to do with “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman. Would they do it justice? Would critical aspects be glossed over or be left out completely?
The story, based on “true events” tells Millman’s own tale of his glory days at UC Berkeley as a promising gymnast. He had what most people would call a good life. Good looks, top grades, girls available at his beck and call, and a daily training regimen that had brought him to the top of his competitive game. Or so he thought.
As the book unfolds, you find that Millman is running the track that many of us are, where things all seem to be going to plan but there’s still something missing. Or things are not going to plan but we can’t figure out why. Basically, it is one of the most compelling stories of self-discovery because of the fact that the author’s story could also be that of any one of us.
Right from the get go, the movie’s opening scene is powerful. Millman (Scott Mechlowicz) is a running through his favorite gig, the rings, at a gymnastic competition. Everything is moving in slow motion, and when he goes to do his landing, his right leg completely shatters into hundreds of flesh colored, plastic bits and pieces, bouncing and dancing along on the shiny gym floor. This has to be a nightmare.
Millman is still lying on the ground in shock at what had just happened as he sees a janitor of sorts, start to sweep up the pieces while wearing two different types of shoes.
He awakes, heart pounding, at sees by his clock that it’s 3:00am (a time in the morning that seems to come up more and more often as the time of inspiration, when answers to questions are delivered and ideas are crafted). After letting the girl in bed with him that things are fine, he dresses and decides to go running through the campus since going back to sleep is out of the question.
Coming upon a Texaco gas station, he discovers a place that he will routinely visit over the course of his training program, one that neither he, nor many other people, had ever experienced. It is on the human grounds of this “service station” where Millman will get to know his mentor, his guide, a modern day shamen he calls Socrates (Nick Nolte), who works at this station in the graveyard hours.
Socrates asks questions of Millman that seem simple to answer, “Are you happy?” Using wordplay, the teacher uses the term “take out the trash” in clear out the mind of the student, the unending thoughts that keeps him from discovering who he really is and from fulfilling his greatest heart’s desire. As most would, Millman can’t understand what is happening at the beginning and even fights the challenges that Socrates throws his way. But in his search to accomplish the physically impossible feats that Socrates has performed, including jumping to the roof of the gas station from the ground in the blink of an eye, Millman is relentless in his pursuit.
In a fit of anger, Millman releases his tension by taking a fast ride on his motorcycle through the streets of Berkley’s downtown. This is when the universe intervened to break his cycle in a painful way (because that is what gets our attention the most), and by cleaning the slate, he’s able to start again from the ground up.
Some aspects of the film, while remembering the opening line of “true events,” may be hard to grasp, but stranger things have happened in this world. Where the film really succeeded was the presentation of Millman’s story, with all of its lessons (including, “be here NOW”), in a way that can easily be absorbed by even the skeptics. Using the chemistry between Nolte and Mechlowicz, the wit and comedic repertoire from the book was kept in tact and used quite often throughout Peaceful Warrior, which makes this real life story into something that people can hopefully take to heart enough to venture out on their own road of self discovery. The film, like the book, is one that should be enjoyed many times over and shared with anyone you care about.
To read a free chapter from the book, go to: www.peacefulwarriorebook.com/