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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Last Shaman documentary review: pharma madness

The Last Shaman red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Tragic hipster indulges in the tribal Amazonian divine. Credulous, sophomoric garbage full of the slick salesmanship of a vaguely spiritual sneaker commercial.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

James Freeman was a well-off young white American man suffering from incurable depression… or maybe he just could not get onboard with the bullshit of well-off white America and its insistence on conformity, financial success at any price, and the self sacrificed to mindless consumerism. When doctors and therapy and pharmaceuticals didn’t help, he decided — as a last-ditch effort before killing himself — to hie off to Peru, find a shaman, and test out the supposedly mind- and spirit-altering qualities of the ayahuasca plant, which is used in traditional rituals and is said to have cured mental illnesses.

I am sympathetic to many of the underlying assumptions of The Last Shaman and of Freeman’s predicament, such as that our way of life is killing us, and that people are sometimes overmedicated with costly corporate drugs that don’t actually help; that, in short, our culture is making so many of us sick in our minds and our bodies. And yet I still found this “documentary” — the first film from actor Raz Degan — to be a pile of outrageous sophomoric garbage,tweet one that depicts its subject as a tragic hipster more worthy of disdain than sympathy and, ironically, evinces all the slick salesmanship of a misbegotten ad for a sports drink or a sneaker that hopes to latch on to trendy notions of vague spirituality. “I want to feel again,” Freeman announces, and it might as well be the tagline for a faux-woke marketing campaign for Diet Soul soda.

Tee in Adolescent Angst (also available in My Mom Hates Me, Dad Is a Sellout, and other colors), $1,265. Watch with no hands because time is an oppressive Western concept, $4,369. Backpack for emotional baggage, $899. All at PrivilegedWhiteBoy.com.

Tee in Adolescent Angst (also available in My Mom Hates Me, Dad Is a Sellout, and other colors), $1,265. Watch with no hands because time is an oppressive Western concept, $4,369. Backpack for emotional baggage, $899. All at PrivilegedWhiteBoy.com.tweet

And then comes the poverty tourism! “I’m skeptical about shamanism,” Freeman informs us, and we can see why: in the towns and cities he meets only “shamans” who claim to have cured AIDS with ayahuasca, and those who say that Jesus speaks to them while they are under the influence of the plant. Worst of all is the appalling American ex-con “shaman” — “I’m also a spiritual warrior” — who brags about the street value of the ayahuasca he has on hand and philosophically defends his side gig in cockfighting. No, Freeman must travel deep into the Amazonian jungle, away from those who prey on gap-year backpackers and curious tourists, to the true shamans, the ones uninfected by Western values. The noble savages living in huts. The more “pure” those people Freeman encounters are, the less they are allowed to speak for themselves. But Degan is sure to include plenty of footage of them lolling around blissfully unspoiled by all those toxic ideas ruining Freeman’s life… such as time and money. The shaman Freeman eventually works with? Naturally, he doesn’t charge for his services.

The fetishization of the culture and the spiritual practices Freeman are exploring is bad. The film’s credulity is bad: there is no questioning whatsoever of what medical value ayahuasca may actually have.tweet (That would require Western scientific expertise, which the film has already concluded is bogus. Did I mention that Freeman’s parents are both doctors, and worry about all the unknowns involved in unlicensed shamans giving their son an unregulated hallucinogenic substance? Mom and Dad come across as nice, concerned people, and if there’s any reason to blame them in particular for their son’s unhappiness, we are not offered it. But Degan shoves them into the villain role anyway.)

“I want to feel again” could be the tagline for a faux-woke marketing campaign for Diet Soul soda.

But probably the most obnoxious thing about The Last Shaman is the earnest adolescent urgency of its attempts to convince us of the rightness and righteousness of Freeman’s newfound wokeness. Like a teenager absolutely convinced that it is his moral imperative to bestow upon you a truth you surely remain blissfully unaware of, Degan assembles trippy montages meant to give us an idea of what Freeman experiences when he finally consumes ayahuasca. The snippets of home movies of Freeman’s childhood are fine: people who use the plant as a drug do report vivid upwellings of childhood memories. But it seems unlikely that Freeman has psychedelic visions of piles of pills on pharmaceutical assembly lines like something out of an unironic pastiche of Reefer Madness.

And did know that Paul McCartney was in a WAY BETTTER BAND before Wings?

Click here for my ranking of this and 2017’s other theatrical releases.

red light half a star

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The Last Shaman (2017) | directed by Raz Degan
US/Can release: May 12 2017

MPAA: not rated

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    A friend of mine uses ayahuasca in an alternative medicine context, as one of several tools. She goes to Peru for months at a time, doing unpaid work for the teacher. She does her best to stop the whole “drug tourism” thing. I don’t think she will be enthusing about this film.

  • s B

    Have you watched the film? It actually shuns drug tourism. The person who wrote the article above has obviously never used ayahuasca. They also sound like a judgmental asshole. This doc didnt seem like an ad at all for aha tourism and in my eyes shows that the gringo shaman and the first negligent shaman who appears to be interested in money should be avoided.

  • Have you read my review?

  • Suzz

    Yes I read ur review. It may seem as if the point of this Doc is tourism and the exploiting of REAL SHAMANS,which would have been great to see …. But it was about a young man ( a being on this planet) who may be rich in material things !!! As we all saw , but his mind was not well & severe depression is something no one can understand unless u yourself have traveled that path. It can feel like a lonley dark road that u are not familiar with and stranded without a light of any kind. Imagine 4 one moment that ur utterly alone!! No amount of money could save a rich genius as Steve jobs who yes had cancer but like cancer depression is a growing social worldly epidemic, Rich,or white, poor or any color skin, the chances of drugs ,alcohol mental illness or physical illness Miss Maryanne will one day hit u or yours , an when it does oh & it will to be sure , because u also big critic 4 20 YRS are stuck here figuring out your life also. Criticizing on issues u may not ever experienced personally?? Karma is a bitch Maryanne, laugh today but strike it Will. When u beat up issues of those u do not know or feelings u can not relate 2 then it’s more likely to bite ur fat critical Ass. never heard of u or actually care to read another one of ur reviews this was my first but my last Also. Go do some serious journalist work on ur own, go check out the desperation of depression then come back with a real comment on life in the world of the human mind in chaos and disorder with no reason other than it is WHAT IT IS. illness , saddens me to think people have no compassion 4 others in PAIN.

  • Karma is a bitch Maryanne


  • Pat Su

    I agree with you. This article reeks of desperation for attention. There is much to be said about the grammar and just the pure stench of bad writing. I do agree that he comes off as a privileged white boy. How many of us humans get to travel to another country to get help? Not many. And this white man, part of the “race” who colonized the very people he seeks help from, goes into this country full of materially and monetarily-poor people. It does seem a bit off-putting in a sense, yet this is a human who is suffering and he is seeking help in the only other way available to him.

    I don’t believe the ayuhuasca was what acactual helped him, though. I believe it was staying in the jungle with eople who live a different lifestyle. He got to live it. He was away from mommy and daddy and discovered himself and another world. He got to see life in a different way.

    Depression is real for anyone no matter what. Station in life does not make it unreal. Every nationality, age, and every different skin tone has suffered with depression, no matter the amount of money they possess.

    The suffering of others does not make your suffering any less difficult as much as the happiness of others does not take away from your happiness (that is unless you’re greedy, hateful, spiteful, or jealous of others’ happiness).

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