“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” – Joseph Campbell
This quote opens the new documentary “Finding Joe,” which takes a different approach in exploring the importance of mythologist, teacher and writer Joseph Campbell. Quotes like this are spread throughout the talking head doc along with discussions of Campbell’s importance and influence from the likes of Deepak Chopra, Tony Hawk, Catherine Hardwicke, Akiva Goldsman, Mick Fleetwood and a host of other successful individuals who attribute some portion of their success to Campbell’s teachings.
Director Pat Solomon’s passion for the material feels heartfelt and genuine. Over the course of the film, he tries to share his own enthusiasm and visually explain its importance. This compassion is what keeps “Finding Joe” from walking off an edge that can at times feel like a series of those motivational corporate posters saying things like “Achieve” and “Dream” below an image of a man atop a mountain with arms outstretched.
The lighthearted visual motifs of Campbell’s concepts are acted out by children. The scenes border on kitsch at times, but are cute for the most part. More importantly, they are well shot and eye-catching. Clips from movies representing Campbell’s concepts such as “the hero’s journey” include the likes of “Rocky,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Matrix,” and “Star Wars.” Lucas himself has given due credit to Campbell’s teachings, though one has to wonder if he reread the works in recent years. But we digress. The mythologist’s influence on pop culture at large in this visual form is eye-popping. And the legions of pop culture figures crediting Campbell in their own life is no less impressive.
With limited footage and images of Campbell himself, “Finding Joe” at times relies too heavily on the talking heads setup. The visuals help break it up, but there are moments where yet another sound bite from Deeprak Chopra or Rashida Jones (really?) border on losing the viewer. The other issue ‘Joe’ suffers from is repetition. Even at a relatively scant 80 minutes, there are moments where it feels like the doc is hitting viewers over the head with concepts already covered ad nauseam.
With all that said, “Finding Joe” is a largely entertaining documentary that achieves what I would imagine is its primary purpose: to introduce laymen to Campbell’s writings and teachings and make them curious to learn more. On that level ‘Joe’ succeeds even if you’ve heard enough about “the hero’s journey” monomyth (Campbell’s term for the concept) to last a lifetime. You’ll certainly find it difficult (if not impossible) not to notice its examples of his theories in just about every pop culture narrative since the dawn of time and on into the future. [B]