Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert, is a name associated with such New Age terms as "spiritual awareness" and "consciousness raising," though these phrases are far from groundbreaking. Having started on a leader's journey from taking LSD with Timothy Leary, which eventually led to cohesion with the Dalai Lama, Ram Dass now expands his healer's speech to the aging, based on his own experience with a recent stroke.
The power of his calm nature in his fight to return to normalcy is understandably comforting to the many who seek private counsel with him. They've lost loved ones, been through hardship, or simply question faith. He provides few specific answers, along with an aching need to communicate that he is still taking time to regain with a speech therapist. Yet his warm smile or patient compassion somehow infuses the space in which these hearts struggle with the room to see a larger view of an overwhelming dilemma.
For as magnetic as his people skills are, Ram Dass Fierce Grace focuses too much on some of the individuals he has had such a stunning effect on. None of the interviews feel prefabricated or trumped up for a camera, but there are so many of them that you almost forget the basis of the film is Ram Dass's adventures in recovery. It's nice to see the various troubles he has aided in overcoming, but the multitude try one's attention span. There are only a small handful of scenes set within the medical environment in which Ram Dass is recuperating, and none go into useful detail about the problems or solutions common from having a stroke.
The whole point of "fierce grace" was to share his woes with his followers so that they may gain strength through Dass's journeys. At one point during a seminar he's giving, members of the audience come up to congratulate him on being such an inspiration. Cold-hearted as this may sound, you may be left questioning why, because you never really see the steps he's taken to reach that stage.
That being said, Ram Dass has a fairly fascinating history that is explored without sounding like a boring story narrated on the A&E. This comes as little surprise, considering that award-winning director Mickey Lemle has been creating documentary tapestries for thirty years. These biographical details do draw respect from those who may not have heard of Ram Dass previously. Dumping his upper class background and a Harvard post to experiment with mind-altering substances, acceptance from India, the quick buildup of a cult following without any of the usual money-making scams.
Ram Dass is an affectionate portrait of someone who has led several lives, learned a little something out of each of them, and found ways to communicate that evoke mutual collaborations with those who surround him. He may be the person with the most life experience under his belt in a given crowd, but it seems, and Ram Dass himself expostulates, that having a stroke has reset something inside. Every moment is a new treasure to add to his vast pile.