“People v. the State of Illusion” provides author Austin Vickers a glossy illustrated lecture to propagate his motivational message that we can escape our personal “prisons” through fundamental, liberating shifts in perception. A metaphor-literalizing dramatic thread runs through a feature otherwise dominated by the writer-producer’s direct-to-camera narration, input from the usual experts, and infomercial-style visuals slickly handled by helmer Scott Cervine. Aiming for auds who made “What the #$*! Do We Know!?” a sleeper hit, pic began gradual rollout in Western urban markets on March 23, supported by Vickers’ PAs.Given a somewhat otherworldly aura by always being photographed in front of a greenscreen, Vickers introduces his fictive tale, which he says is based on a case he defended as a trial lawyer: Aaron Rogers (J.B. Tuttle) is a harried single father and white-collar professional who runs a red light and hits another car, killing the woman driving it. Suddenly Aaron is starting a six-year term for manslaughter. It all seems terribly unfair, having his life upended and his daughter handed to child services over “one tiny slip in judgment.” Having never been in serious trouble before, Aaron self-piteously experiences incarceration as a living hell (though we never see him outside his cell). Then one day a janitor (Michael McCormick) passes him an unidentified book, and otherwise begins schooling him in the notion that his mind is still free, if only he’ll cast off the perceptions of entrapment he’s jailed it with. Aaron becomes a model prisoner, helping others and (in a rather gratuitous leap) even getting a governor’s pardon for his good works and amply demonstrated remorse. Vickers uses this blunt fable to illuminate his notions about stress as a self-imposed reaction that creates the sense we can’t escape or alter our problematic current circumstances and responsibilities. But as he and eight experts (in fields from neuroscience and pharmacology to biz management, spirituality and self-help) aver, such limitations are a matter of habit reflected in human design right down to the cellular level. No less naturally, such negative patterns can be overcome with an awareness shift that welcomes the unknown, allowing for personal change in any direction, from financial fortune to relationships. Whether this seems like a New Age way of saying “Get off your arse and do something,” or like an invaluable kickstart toward profound self-discovery, will depend on the viewer’s prejudices and receptivity. (Even those who find it enlightening may feel it’s like an instruction manual’s introduction, stopping short of the actual instructions — with Vickers’ website, duly listed at the end, offering myriad further options in personal coaching, workshops, online courses, et al.) As a tool for consciousness-raising, “People” is undeniably well-intentioned; analyzing it as art or entertainment is irrelevant. The hyperbolic editing and music, which might seem cornball in most other contexts, are excusable here as hard salesmanship, even if the product is simply non-denominational consciousness raising. Assembly, which includes a fair amount of CGI graphics/animation, is above average for this kind of enterprise.
A Samuel Goldwyn Films release of an Intention Media presentation in association with Exalt Films. Produced by Austin Vickers. Directed by Scott Cervine. Written by Austin Vickers.
Camera (color, HD), David Fisher, Jeff Halperin; editors, Vickers, Cervine; music supervisor, Cervine; costume designer, Cricket Ernst; sound, Alex Burdick, Joe Bahannon, Joe Lankford, Tony Lopato; re-recording mixers, Bob Witsenhausen; visual effects, Jeff Parson, Rex Gallardo; assistant director, Conci Althouse. Reviewed at Opera Plaza Cinemas, San Francisco, April 2, 2012. Running time: 86 MIN.
Joe Dispenza, Brenda J. Dunne, Debbie Ford, Robert G. Jahn, Thomas Moore, Candace Pert, Peter Senge, Michael Vandermark, J.B. Tuttle, Michael McCormick, Kevin McDonald.