Jul 15, 2017

'Hare Krishna!' takes an uncritical look at a controversial spiritual movement and its leader

Srila Prabhupada
Srila Prabhupada
Mark Jenkins
Washington Post
July 13, 2017

In 1965, a 70-year-old retired pharmacist from Kolkata arrived in New York with no contacts or support and very little money. What he did bring was, depending on your point of view, either (a) spiritual enlightenment or (b) a mind-control cult that ripped susceptible middle-class teens away from their families.

The documentary “Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All” mentions both possibilities, but clearly favors the first. Filmmaker John Griesser and his co-director Lauren Ross fill the film with footage of Srila Prabhupada, the man who, in 1966, founded a religious organization called the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and his intelligent and articulate disciples. Coverage of controversies involving ISKCON after the guru’s 1977 death (including an alleged murder conspiracy) is relegated to a montage of unfavorable TV news and a Hare Krishna gag from “Airplane II.”

For viewers who aren’t hostile to mysticism, vegetarianism and endless chanting, it’s a stirring story. Prabhupada arrived at a pivotal moment in American culture, setting up shop in a Lower East Side storefront behind a sign promising “Matchless Gifts.” He was soon communing with George Harrison, members of the Grateful Dead and Allen Ginsburg, who is shown singing “Hare Krishna” to a smirking William F. Buckley Jr. The swami’s goal was simple, he explained: “To see everyone happy.” But how tricky a goal that can be.

Unrated. At the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. Contains drug references.


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