Finding Joe: Celebrating Joseph Campbell

There's much to savor in director Patrick Takaya Solomon's documentary about the life—but mainly the work—of the late Joseph Campbell, iconic scholar of myths from around the world. (He coined Oprah's favorite phrase, "Find your bliss.") The film isn't meant to be just an examination of Campbell's work but an extension of it, a tool you might use to help put the instructive lessons of myths to work in your own life. To that end, it's very effective, even if it largely comes off—with its soft music and soothing color scheme—as a New Age infomercial. Solomon employs talking heads (ranging from spiritual gurus and scholars like Deepak Chopra to entertainment figures such as Mick Fleetwood and Rashida Jones); rolls out a staggering number of film clips that illuminate "the hero's journey" (Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, Matrix); and injects a bit of levity by using children to act out some of the myths and the struggles they contain. It's engaging stuff that takes the edge off the lessons. But some edge would have added intellectual rigor to the spiritual exercise. One place it could have been added: Solomon could have noted the absence of African myths from Campbell's global arsenal, and his dismissal of them as "mumbo-jumbo from the Congo." That's a staggering blind spot for a "universalist."

 
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