Movie review of “Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary”: The documentary charts the relationship between the onetime Harvard professors who advocated for their own forms of expanded consciousness.
It is odd that Timothy Leary, an evangelist for psychedelic drugs who urged his followers to “turn on, tune in, drop out,” should be the subject of a documentary that doesn’t seem worth that effort.
“Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary,” directed by Gay Dillingham, charts the relationship between Leary (who died in 1996) and Ram Dass, formerly Richard Alpert — onetime Harvard professors who advocated for their own forms of expanded consciousness. Leary conducted experiments with psilocybin (a component of psychoactive mushrooms) and LSD. Alpert later went to India, grew spiritual and became Ram Dass.
The movie stitches together interviews shot over many years, including a conversation between the two men that Dillingham filmed as Leary was dying of prostate cancer. Both men approach death matter-of-factly, even with anticipation.
‘Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary,’ a documentary narrated by Robert Redford. Directed by Gay Dillingham, from a screenplay by David Leach. 95 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. SIFF Cinema Uptown.
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Probably ragged by necessity, the movie uses narration from Robert Redford to thread archival material (like Leary’s 1966 Senate testimony) and reminiscences. Those featured include the integrative-medicine doctor Andrew Weil, who was involved in the subjects’ dismissal from Harvard, and Leary’s son Zachary Leary, who describes a “shockingly normal” upbringing.
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Closer to a greatest-hits than an original take, the movie is nevertheless a curiously sedate and uncritical rundown, barely quickening the pulse when it addresses Leary’s 1970 escape from prison. More problematic is that it presents these ideas with the zeal of the already converted. It’s less a social history than a commercial for alternative healing.