The Last Shaman documentary review: pharma madness

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.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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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, 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
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

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. (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?

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Tue, May 23, 2017 10:17am

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
s B
Wed, May 31, 2017 7:26pm

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.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  s B
Fri, Jun 02, 2017 12:35pm

Have you read my review?

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Sep 05, 2017 5:02am

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.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Suzz
Sat, Sep 09, 2017 10:48am

Karma is a bitch Maryanne


Pat Su
Pat Su
reply to  Suzz
Thu, Jul 26, 2018 6:29am

I agree with you, Suzz. 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. Many of us suffer andnhave no choicecbut to continuenlife or not. Yet this white man-boy, 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 actually helped him, though. I believe it was staying in the jungle with people 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/from 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).

Wed, Sep 02, 2020 7:45pm

To be honest, this review really sucks.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Gary
Thu, Sep 03, 2020 11:39am

In what way? What did you like about the movie?

Thu, Oct 21, 2021 8:37pm

you sound jealous for being out of touch with reality,
this is the most gross review i have read.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Entheogen
Sun, Oct 24, 2021 3:35pm

Such a convincing argument.

Sat, Dec 04, 2021 8:29am

I really understand all the criticism and judgments towards the documentary. I think James’ experience could be seen as an absurd if we don’t extract what this doc is really about. I am happy that James seems to have found a meaning to his life. I believe every one of us have our own way of finding that will to live, and “Last Shaman” is pointing that science doesn’t have all the answers. Maybe there is a lot of potential medicines and treatments we don’t know about (ofc new stuff has to be properly tested and researched in order to be reccomended). By the way, the Shipibo Village show us a different way of living. They are not trying to take financial advantages or try to sell a fake experience. Therefore, I invite you to know more about ayahuasca and other natural medicines:
Wish you all the best.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Gustavo
Sun, Dec 05, 2021 3:23pm

As the great critic Roger Ebert said, It’s not what a film is about, it’s how it’s about it.

The how here is what’s the problem.

Sat, Jun 25, 2022 9:07am

Thank you for writing this review, this doc was a lot of cringe for anybody in the real world and I don’t wanna put anybody down in the film but I’m glad someone is poking fun at this privileged lifestyle and the direction. The review was funny and not even that harsh. The subject of the film was a privileged young dude and actually it was a nice ending with him walking through the hills and city’s of Vermont but I’m thinking to myself Jesus when is this kid gonna get a car and have to go to work and pay the bills 🤷🏼‍♂️ Anyway thanks for the review. It was nice to see James get out of the hammock and play soccer also. And talk to his dad. What a concept. Idk watch the film it is interesting and this review is pretty tame no harsh at all. Also kudos James that was also brave to put yourself out there to be judged by the wolves