Published Jun 06, 2013As interesting and heartfelt as Phie Ambo's look at the usefulness of treating Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and Attention Deficit (is it impolite to term it a disorder now?) with meditation is, it also skews towards clinical propaganda. This is a documentary designed to celebrate the potential of the age-old Buddhist pursuit to positively impact forms of mental illness that are rooted in the psychological rather than the chemical.
There is no attempt by Ambo to give other forms of therapy consideration aside from damning the over-use of pharmaceuticals. With such a narrow field of opinions and test subjects presented, it's difficult to afford scientist Richard Davidson's "Mindfulness" technique the credit it might well deserve.
Still, watching how Davidson treats both children with attention span issues and grown men suffering from extreme guilt with simple (but not easy) mental control exercises is fascinating. Since Davidson is an accomplished neuroscientist he brings academic reason to a discipline that has most often been associated with the spiritual and the mystical in the past.
His clear and patient explanation of the science behind the health benefits of meditation is a refreshing perspective on the subject and a great example of the value of applying empirical reasoning to ancient schools of thought. To give the documentary some narrative shape, Ambo follows a small child with debilitating elevator anxiety and a group of war veterans, each tormented by a litany of PTSD symptoms, as they undergo an experimental treatment program with Davidson.
Providing some minor visual stimulation but also padding the film's relatively brief runtime of eighty minutes, Ambo inserts shots of brain-mapping imagery between treatment sessions and interview segments with both the patients and researcher. These scenes don't really enhance a viewing experience that is already rich enough in information to make Free the Mind quite engrossing, despite being a little on the preachy side. (Nordisk)