Watching “The Fourth Noble Truth” quickly reminded me of how much I personally benefit from doing meditation, and of how I need to get back into the habit of doing it on a regular basis. It’s very beneficial as it allows your brain to have a rest from all the thoughts and concerns which constantly run through it, and it helped me during a time where I suffered deeply from anxiety and depression. Gary T. McDonald’s film explores meditation from a Buddhist perspective as two people come together while searching for true happiness, and the end result feels emotionally honest about a topic some would be loath to take seriously.
Before we get to the movie’s opening title, we are introduced to movie star Aaron Redmond (Harry Hamlin) who does a Jack Nicholson and bashes another person’s car with a golf club. This is all it takes for the audience to see that this guy has serious anger management issues, and the movie wastes little time in showing him driving out to the home of a Buddhist meditation teacher named Rachel (the lovely Kristen Kerr) as it is part of his sentence for being convicted of road rage.
The way Aaron sees it, he has everything a person could ever want, so how can he be the least bit unhappy? Rachel, however, is not impressed with his bad boy movie star persona and sets about teaching him each of the noble truths while guiding him through meditations. However, his constant flirtations end up getting the best of her, and they end up spending the night together. From there they are both forced to reassess their life choices or risk losing the love and happiness they strive for.
In case you are wondering what the four noble truths are, they express the basic orientation of Buddhism which says this worldly existence is fundamentally unsatisfactory, but there is a path to liberation from repeated worldly existence. The truths are as follows:
Life is full of psychic suffering, such as stress, angst, discontent, and unhappiness.
The cause of this suffering is desire. Not the fleeting kind, but a clinging or attachment for things like material possessions, people, and validation.
If you end these fixations, you will stop suffering.
You end suffering by walking the Eightfold Path, which is a way of life embodying these virtues:
The Buddha taught that developing the virtues of the fourth noble truth is the key to happiness. Of course, getting to the last truth is always the hard part.
I liked how Hamlin’s character evolves throughout the film. His skepticism over meditation is understandable as most people, including myself, come into it with a lot of doubt over if it will do them any good. Also, getting the handle of meditation takes some time because you are bound to start off feeling like you’re not doing it right. His character of Aaron refuses to take meditation seriously at first, and he is mostly interested in getting the judge in his case off his back more than anything else. But while he appears to be confident in being the man he is, we can see from the start he is one seriously unhappy dude.
Hamlin has been around for a long time, and my generation knows him best for his roles in “Clash of the Titans” (the original, not the remake) and the TV show “LA Law.” These days he is better known for his work on the shows “Mad Men,” “Glee,” and “Shameless.” At 63, he still has an effortless charisma about him which makes him perfect for this role of an over the hill celebrity who has yet to realize material possessions do not equal happiness.
I’m not familiar with Kristen Kerr’s work, but she left quite the impression on me as Rachel. When we first meet her, she appears to be a master in the ways of meditation and has reached a great place in her life where everything seems balanced. But as the movie goes on, she comes to see how uncertain she is of whether or not she has reached the fourth noble truth as she makes the biggest mistake a meditation teacher can make.
It should go without saying how nobody is perfect, but this threatens to do a disservice to Rachel as she quickly realizes the errors of her ways. Kerr makes Rachel a fascinating character as a result because we really root for her to hold onto her bearings and not give up on her pursuit to achieve happiness. It’s never an easy road as life is full of endless trials and tribulations, and we come out of this movie relieved Rachel has not lost her way. Kerr is a wonderfully appealing presence from start to finish, and she makes us believe in the benefits of meditation in a way few other actors could.
McDonald’s previous directorial credits include “The Sea Wolf” and the documentary “Rape/Crisis,” movies I have yet to see. He does a commendable job of taking this relationship story and makes it feel down to earth and not the least bit contrived. When Aaron and Rachel fall for one another, I thought the movie was going to shoot itself in the foot and lose all credibility, but their relationship serves to give “The Fourth Noble Truth” more complex issues to explore. What I admired most was how the movie explored meditation and the relationship issues these two characters experience to where it feels emotionally honest in a very satisfying way.
In some ways, “The Fourth Noble Truth” is somewhat undone by its understandably low budget, and I hate to say that because movies like these are forced to deal with whatever resources they can get a hold of. I could see this script being done as a play onstage, so it doesn’t feel as cinematic as a movie should. But despite its flaws, it serves as a nice introduction to what meditation can do for your own well-being. It’s not meant to be an instructional manual on meditation, but if it were then it wouldn’t be as effective.
“The Fourth Noble Truth” is coming in well below the radar amidst all the big blockbusters which threaten to occupy our local multiplexes at the expense of everything else. My hope is more people get exposed to it on the big screen long before it becomes available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.
* * * out of * * * *