Every now and then a movie comes around that not only entertains, but also inspires. I found this to be the case with What the Bleep Do We Know. Now I can add another movie to my list: People V. The State of Illusion.
Similar to “What The Bleep,” “People Versus The State of Illusion” (from here on out “PVSI”) is a movie interspersed with interviews with expert interviews. The movie is narrated and produced by lawyer Austin Vickers. The plot of the movie centers on Aaron Roberts, an overworked single dad, who drinks excessively to deal with his anxiety and stress.
At the beginning of the movie, Roberts is talking to a woman at a bar, and eventually rushes to his daughter Hope’s play. The movie starts by playing with our concept of Aaron’s reality. Does Roberts actually make it on time to see his daughter’s play? It is hard to determine. On the way home from the play, he runs a red light and kills an innocent women. However, his initial perception is that it was the other driver who ran the red light. Despite Aaron’s nonchalant approach to his act (“can’t I just pay a fine?”), he is sentenced to six years in prison, and obviously loses custody of Hope (“Hope” is an allegory for actual hope, since her character never gives up on Roberts, and actually initiates the process to get him out of prison).
Before showing Roberts in prison, the movie stops for interviews with a variety of experts, including two of my favorites from “What The Bleep,” Candace Pert (Molecules of Emotion) and Joe Dispenza (Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself). Vickers and the experts explain the causes and negative effects of stress. The basic underlying message: our thoughts cause stress. It is not an external event that causes stress, but in reality our internal response to stress.
While in prison, Roberts has a run in with the guard. The guard harasses Roberts and even physically threatens him. Roberts gladly snaps back with the same level of anger. The movie then breaks into more interesting commentary on stress, including its effects on society and children in particular. Dispenza explains that we create a facade that is much different than who we really are. We rely on the environment for our identity. We may be empty inside, so we rely on external factors to hide this, so we shop more, drink more, or join the country club to be around others who are putting up the same type of facade. But, the chemical receptors on our cells become sensitive, and we need more shopping, alcohol, etc, to get that same chemical “hit.” We can literally become addicted to bad feelings and behaviors. We may even come to like (chemically speaking) our stressed and dysfunctional lives (Dispenza gets into this in much more detail in his excellent book which I have linked to above).
After some days, Roberts meets a “dumb ass janitor,” E.J. Roberts shares with E.J. that living in the prison cell is “hell.” Roberts then explains that a lot of bad things happened in his life: he lost his wife, lost his job, was constantly stressed, and “had no life.” E.J. responds with what I think is the “money line” if you will, “Sounds like that place was hell too. Well I know I’m just be a ‘dumb ass janitor’ but it seems to me the only common denominator between this hell and that hell is you.”
In other words, we create our own reality. Roberts’ life was a prison before he ever went to a physical prison.
E.J. then delivers Roberts a Roman mosaic of a half-naked woman, with the advice that everything Roberts needs is around him, he just has to see it. More on this later. After this, Vickers explains (with lots of cool graphics and animation) how the brain processes information, and how much our perceptions of reality dictate what our reality actually is. Since we only consciously take in very very small parts of the billions of bits the brain is encountering, the brain constantly takes “shortcuts” based on our past brain wiring. This creates mental prison walls that literally cause us to “see” present reality based on the past. So, if you have “memorized” suffering and sadness, then even if your conscious mind says “I want to be happy,” the rest of the mind and body say “you want to be miserable.” Essentially, our brains reinforce the story we have known our entire lives, and as Pert regularly writes about (and researches), this is more than just a brain thing; it actually involves a feedback loop with the cells of the body. As Dispenza mentions, just like a great golfer masters his swing, we “master” a way of being. We can literally “master” suffering, anger, anxiety, etc, by living these patterns every day.
On day 272, Roberts decides to approach the prison guard differently, and they find they went to the same high school. This simple change of outlook builds rapport and actually begins a friendship with the guard. He also decides to write to the husband of the woman that he killed.
The movie then takes a twist into the “metanormal,” getting into the research of Jahn and Dunne at the PEAR laboratory at Princeton. In fact, both researchers are actually interviewed in the film. They remind us that our minds and environment interact, and that our thoughts and intentions can literally influence external reality.
By Day 399, Roberts has changed significantly. He finds a piece of paper in his cell which has the name “E.J.” on it. On day 462, he starts to get disappointed. He finally understands the gravity of killing another, and the mistakes he has made. He also misses Hope. Some of his new changes aren’t bearing fruit. The husband of the woman he killed hasn’t bothered to write him back after numerous letters. It is at this point that E.J. reveals his name, and Roberts realizes that E.J. was once in the same prison he was.
So how can we “break” the bad patterns of emotions and thoughts we have mastered? We to make a “content to process shift,” i.e. we have to stop focusing on the content of our lives (i.e. “she always makes me mad”) to the process, our “patterns of perception.” In other words, we stop focusing on the externals and focus on our thoughts about the externals (i.e. “why does she always make me mad, yet others just laugh her off?”). Once we realize our patterns of perception are not leading to good results, we have to begin to ask what different perceptions would lead to a better result, and what choices can we make that reflect this new perception?
In other words, we have to be in control of our perception, thoughts, and emotions regardless of the people, events, and stressors in our lives. As we change our perceptions, our reality changes. Roberts finds that his “prison” soon turns into something tolerable, even beautiful. He starts doing positive things, like coming to terms with his past, and helping other inmates through a reading program. He even begins to help the guard with some of his personal problems. His cell goes from being “hell” to “mi casa,” as he even comments on how he likes the way the shadows fall within his cell. Roberts is in the same environment as day one, but everything changes because of his different perceptions.
As he changed his perceptions, his reality changed with it. After some time, your brain-body feedback loop will change and the prisons of anger, depression, stress, etc will disappear, as the loop changes and our addiction to bad thoughts and emotions will subside. As Dispenza says, we have to think greater than the environment and circumstances, and act greater than the the conditions in our life. All great people in history have done this. By thinking in new ways they “put the hardware” in place in their brain before they actually achieved greatness. Hence their greater perceptions led to a greater reality.
Near the end of the movie, Roberts realizes that a mosaic is really just pieces of glass and other items. However, viewed from a different perspective, it becomes a work of art. It is a great allegory for how our perceptions really do determine our reality.
On Day 773, the guard and E.J come with great news. The husband finally wrote back. The husband too has shifted his perceptions. He finally read the letters from Aaron from a different perspective: that of his deceased wife. He initially hated Aaron, but realizes that his would have forgiven Aaron, and chosen instead to embrace love over the pain and fear that hate inspires. He expresses his forgiveness for Aaron. Aaron also receives word of his pardon, a result of Hope’s hiring a lawyer to free him. Vickers explains that the “trial” is actually about us, the “Hope” that we have, but haven’t embraced.
The DVD also contains some bonus interviews with the experts at the end, which themselves are very fascinating.
Before I summarize why I liked this move (and I really did), let me explain some negatives. The plot is pretty predictable and some of the dialogue is not the best. Some of the acting may be a tad weak, but not bad. I view this movie as more of an allegory than anything else. Sure it is predictable, but that is the point. Everything works out, but that is the point. Some people will immediately dismiss this movie because of these factors. The movie is not a big budget Hollywood drama, so we just have to get over this. Another complaint some have is that the “experts” aren’t your average scientists. They are more “fringe” you might say, but most are genuine thinkers and experts in their fields. Perhaps our perception determines whether one is a pioneer or just a fringe troublemaker.
Overall, I loved this film. Every time I watch it I get inspired to take control of my life. I feel the same way when I watch What the Bleep? I consider this a better movie actually. I think the plot of “People Versus The State of Illusion” is more interesting and the overall point is hammered home more directly, although I love WTB too. PVSI takes a somewhat complex topic and makes it accessible and desirable. Watching this move can be a “scales from the eyes” moment.
For our regular readers, this move will inspire you to greatness, and to take charge of your life, and realize that the present reality that is “your life” is not actual reality. You can re-imagine and newly perceive your reality in a way that will create your best self possible.