Here’s an idea for Steven Spielberg: the next “Indiana Jones” movie follows the iconic archaeologist into a new phase of his life where he’s founded a sect of Christianity based in part around “sungazing,” an ancient practice of staring into the sun daily for an extended period of time as a source of biological and spiritual nourishment. And maybe he’s also completely given up eating. Sounds wackier and more unlikely than the fridge-nuking scene, or anything else, in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” right? But truth is of course stranger than fiction, and this is actually part of the amazing new documentary “Eat the Sun,” which premieres on The Documentary Channel tonight.
Gene Savoy, who was kind of like a real Indiana Jones (in fact People magazine labeled the explorer such in 1984), appears as just one of many sungazers in the film, which features some of the religious practices of his International Community of Christ, Church of the Second Advent. Another, the 70-year-old Indian sungazing teacher who goes by the name HRM, claims to have subsisted solely on solar energy and water, not having eaten a solid food, in eight years. There’s also the very scrawny Wiley Brooks, who had 15 minutes of fame 30 years ago by lifting 1100lbs., nearly ten times his own weight, on the show “That’s Incredible!” He’s also a non-eater who apparently absorbs most of his food from the sun, which basically gives him a super strength.
I find it easy to throw the word ‘fascinating’ around in documentary reviews. At the very least non-fiction films should be interesting and fascinating. But “Eat the Sun” is one of those docs about a subject most of us (I think?) have never heard of before. The idea that tens of thousands of Americans are living without food of any kind, let alone that they stare directly into the sun and might have better vision and are more vibrant and productive than average people, is so unbelievable. You’ll be relieved when the filmmakers, including editor-turned-director Peter Sorcher, grow skeptical enough with their own subjects that they begin trailing one character, hoping to catch him in the act of consuming a meal.
Sorcher primarily concentrates on Mason, a relative newcomer to the ritual of sungazing, as he strives to reach the goal of HRM’s technique, which is a maximum sungazing time of 44 minutes per day. Mason accompanies the filmmakers around the country as they meet with scientists, ophthalmologists (one of whom is also a sungazer) and fellow solar-powered persons such as a Mormon who finds scripture hinting at the practice and a guy who does eat but bases his diet on what primitive people ate, namely raw meat and vegetables. Throughout Mason learns more about what he’s doing, but some of the education is less than encouraging.
“Eat the Sun” is so many things, including a mystery and also it’s similar to many of the Morgan Spurlock-variety experiment-based docs. The film doesn’t begin with Mason or anyone else stating that they’re going to stop eating for thirty days, or however long, and instead only stare at the sun. But Mason’s story, even though caught already underway, could be nicknamed “Solar Size Me” or something along those lines. His journey comes across as more of an internal transformation, whether it’s spiritual or psychological, probably because it occurs over hundreds of days rather than a mere month. One of the more curious side effects of sungazing is apparently social withdrawal, which, combined with his interest in solitary sporting activities, makes him like the guy portrayed by James Franco in “127 Hours,” minus the rock pinning his arm down, of course.
Two recent docs that would play incredibly well with “Eat the Sun” are “Queen of the Sun,” which I reviewed earlier this month and which has both a comparable array of kooks and a similarly curious and informative consideration of the cultural and ritual interests related to its main subject, and “The City Dark” (see my review at Cinematical), which isn’t necessarily its nocturnal reciprocal but tonally it feels like a dark-side companion — and it involves stargazing, which is kind of antithetical to sungazing. At least the spacey electronic scores for both “Eat the Sun” and “The City Dark,” respectively by Josh Mancell and The Fisherman Three (who won an award at SXSW for their work on the film) are also remarkably alike.
If it weren’t for the multitude of info on the web to be found on sungazing and other related types of fasting (inedia and Breatharianism), I’d continue with the doubts I had watching “Eat the Sun” that any of these people or their presented lifestyles are legit. Part of me wants it still to turn out to be a satirical response to over abundance of trendy foodie docs and environmentalism docs, yet there’s not quite enough address, if any at all, of world hunger or energy debates or global warning for this to be a successful prank. The film does have a perplexity and wonder, though, so that even if seriously believed entirely it’s an extremely fascinating look into an undoubtedly strange and suspicious subculture.
“Eat the Sun” is now available on DVD and currently airing on The Documentary Channel
Recommended If You Like: “The City Dark”; “Super Size Me”; a mash-up of Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” and “Sunshine” (maybe this film should have been titled “Sunspotting”?)