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Now and Then: 'Decoding Deepak,' or What the Bleep Does He Know?

Photo of Matt Brennan By Matt Brennan | Thompson on Hollywood! October 9, 2012 at 4:04PM

Early in "Decoding Deepak," the titular spiritualist and his filmmaker son float languidly over Thailand's Chao Phraya river delta, on their way to the former's ordination as a Buddhist monk. "Don't try to make sense of it, just roll the cameras and try to keep up," the director sighs. Mission accomplished.

There is, as Gotham admits, no making sense of it. The filmmaker prefers to poke at his father's steely enigma than develop the loose ends of the "real" story. In "Decoding Deepak" the person being decoded is the director himself. Archival footage of morning show appearances and spots on Larry King present Gotham, now regretful of those wasted years, lip-syncing his father's lines. He got into broadcast journalism and then documentary filmmaking, he tells us, because he was tired of talking. He wanted to listen.

If only he had listened to his own instincts: hidden within the celebrity worship and meaningless talk of "Decoding Deepak" is the story of a distant father and a wayward prodigal, "The Master" in miniature. In an ingenious moment, Deepak describes the ending he envisions for the film, and Gotham halfway obliges, animating his father's words with stock footage of pulsing cells and bursts of stars. It comes 15 minutes in. Gotham nods at such secret shoals and tacit challenges, lamenting the "script" they always follow, acknowledging that the film may be "about us, about me."   

In the end, though, after inscribing a message for his own son in a book of ancestors tucked amid the narrow passages of a remote Indian town, Gotham relents, and lets his father have the film's last words. Against the tactile firmness of the pen on paper, of a simple accounting of who the Chopras have been, and hope to be, the words seem as meaningless as ever. "Where is the 'I' that really exists?" Deepak asks. "Everywhere." And, in "Decoding Deepak," nowhere.

"Decoding Deepak" is now playing in Santa Monica and New York, and on demand via SnagFilms.

This article is related to: Now and Then, Reviews, DVD and VOD, Genres, Independents, Documentaries

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.