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SXSW 2016 Review: ‘Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru’ Makes Tony Robbins Look Kind of Scary

SXSW 2016 Review: 'Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru' Makes Tony Robbins Look Kind of Scary

READ MORE: SXSW 2016 Coverage From Indiewire

Tony Robbins may have turned motivational speaking into an art form, but judging by the depiction of his workshops in the documentary “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru,” it’s also something of a religion. While technically a behind-the-scenes look at Robbins’ popular six-day “Date With Destiny” seminar, director Joe Berlinger’s celebratory approach mainly plays like an advertisement. Even if he means well, Robbins’ technique raises a lot of thorny questions that “I Am Not Your Guru” chooses to ignore. 

For the majority of its nearly two-hour running time, the movie focuses one of the dozen self-improvement sessions Robbins hosts around the country, where thousands of people drop $5,000 for the entrance fee to several days of lively interactive speeches. Robbins’ main schtick finds him wandering a massive room and barking out vulgarity-laced inspirational mantras, interspersed with powerful exchanges with individuals expressing frustration over their lack of self-confidence. As Berlinger shifts between wide shots capturing the sheer scale of the crowd and intimate closeups, Robbins’ extraordinary capacity to captivate his audience is an undeniable marvel. It’s easy to see why he does so well at this racket.  

But these dramatic emotional sequences are only supplemented by brief snippets of the event’s organizers at work and Robbins’ own backstage musings about his method (with one slight digression into memories of his abusive childhood). Instead of diving into the nature of Robbins’ appeal, “I Am Not Your Guru” offers a bafflingly one-sided look at his manipulative prowess. And for anyone not automatically convinced of his pure intentions, that a few loose strings. By existing entirely within the confines of the world he’s created, the movie actively resists any possible skepticism about his unique skill. For the most part, Berlinger’s camera just watches in awe alongside everyone else. 

Robbins is certainly quite the showman: Cussing away to wake up his clients from their sense of inadequacy, he waxes poetic on using “the science of taboo language” at every possible opportunity. “Don’t fuck it up,” he tells one young woman who’s coping with her abusive father. “There’s still time.” Acknowledging his larger-than-life presence to the room, he boasts, “I created this motherfucker.”
He’s not joking. A broad-shouldered, gravelly-voiced rock star, Robbins’ whole routine displays a masterful eye for performative gestures. While limited in perspective, his delivery is infectious, and those susceptible to his approach could save some money by simply absorbing his appeal through this encapsulation. (“I Am Not Your Guru” has been unsurprisingly snatched up for digital distribution by Netflix, which also hosts a popular TED talk Robbins gave about his extraordinary rise.)

About that money. When not focused on the seminars, “I Am Not Your Guru” repeatedly cuts to Robbins’ palatial seaside Florida mansion, where he engages in experimental workout sessions and sings his own praises. This contrast creates the unmistakable impression of Robbins exploiting his clients’ duress, no matter how much they might attest to its positive impact. The handful of attendees whom Robbins interrogates over the course of the movie suggest that he’s either preying on their fragile states, or that they’re just eager to embrace his laser-focused support. One prolonged moment finds Robbins engaging with a “Children of God” survivor who says she endured years of sex slavery in her youth; Robbins consoles her by appointing two men in the crowd as her supportive “uncles,” a peculiar designation that somehow seems to please the whole room. Never once do we see someone unmoved or even slightly resistant to Robbins’ approach, leading to the conclusion based on all available evidence that it’s immaculate. 

But it can’t be that simple, can it? There’s an undeniable creepy aspect to the ability of one man to hold court over a single crowd eager to meet his every directive. While Donald Trump’s rise has encouraged comparisons to Hilter rallies, Robbins’ capacity to manipulate thousands of worriers at will has more subtly unsettling connotations, no matter how much his fans argue in his favor. Berlinger, a talented documentarian whose “Paradise Lost” films demonstrate a keen ability to separate fact and media hype, leaves room for viewers to reach their own conclusions—but hardly provides sufficient information to see beyond Robbins’ celebrity. Clearly an authorized project, it never leaves his perspective. 

Nevertheless, Robbins’ juiced-up, aggressively virile tone to confronting life’s challenges often borders on parody. “Gimme a roar!” he urges one troubled man, which sets the stage for a bizarre climactic moment in which the crowd howls to the sky in a group chant that suggests Robbins’ adheres to “The Lion King” playbook for psychoanalysis. Viewed without sound, the scene could be mistaken for a faith healing ritual — which wouldn’t be that far off-base. 

Ultimately, Robbins’ domineering character is so well-calculated that it appears Berlinger couldn’t peer beyond the curtain even if he tried. That fascinating dilemma makes the movie worth watching even though it presents an incomplete picture. Over the credits, the filmmaker asks his subject to explain who he really is. “I don’t think people give a shit,” Robbins replies. The main flaw of “Not Your Guru” is that the movie takes his word for it.  

Grade: C+

Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru” premiered at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival. It premieres on Netflix on July 15. 

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Comments

Baa Do

I would also add that I know for a fact that they are running multi billion dollar corporations, mom and pop operations, saving teenagers from abuse and suicide. These are the people in the shadows that people like you will never ever know about because you can not believe the good work that Robbins has done. It is the lives of these people and the lives that they then go on to touch that you are totally ignorant of. I know of several parents that did NOT get a visit from a police officer telling them about their childs suicide, I know of several newspaper articles that were NOT written about school room shootings. Because these events never happened, because a person that Robbins touched with his work stepped in the way and prevented them. THIS is what Robbins work is really about. So what that he lives in a palatial house. He works damn hard even though he does nto need to do the 14 hour days that he often does at these events. He does it to serve and he serves us very well indeed.

Baa Do

As another respondant says above, “his mindless followers are winning gold medals, Grammys, Oscars, leading Fortune 500 companies, countries, charities… No documented genocidal gatherings to my knowledge.”
I would also add that I know for a fact that they are running multi billion dollar corporations, mom and pop operations, saving teenagers from abuse and suicide. These are the people in the shadows that people like you will never ever know about because you can not believe the good work that Robbins has done. It is the lives of these people and the lives that they then

Baa Do

“Nevertheless, Robbins’ juiced-up, aggressively virile tone to confronting life’s challenges often borders on parody. "Gimme a roar!" he urges one troubled man, which sets the stage for a bizarre climactic moment in which the crowd howls to the sky in a group chant that suggests Robbins’ adheres to "The Lion King" playbook for psychoanalysis. Viewed without sound, the scene could be mistaken for a faith healing ritual — which wouldn’t be that far off-base. “
Again you have completely missed the point. And in fairness to you, you are limited because you don’t know the whole story which I am afraid that you do not have the consciousness to appreciate or understand in the same way a monkey cannot understand quantum physics. BTW, did you miss the point that that couple gave birth to their child in Nov 2015. I can tell you that that was direct result of what happened at DWD that they became parents.

Baa Do

“There’s an undeniable creepy aspect to the ability of one man to hold court over a single crowd eager to meet his every directive.”

MLK & Ghandi and Nelson Madela also had the same talent and look what they achieved. Maybe it is not the talent of these people that we should be worried about but the use that it is put to.

Baa Do

“But it can’t be that simple, can it?”

Maybe it is THAT simple and you are just over complicating things for yourself so that you can feel significant and important. That’s ok. That is your life and yours to live as you see fit.

Baa Do

“Never once do we see someone unmoved or even slightly resistant to Robbins’ approach, leading to the conclusion based on all available evidence that it’s immaculate.”
Because at that moment, there was not a dry eye in the house. Anyone with any ounce of humanity could feel the rawness of everything and what we saw and felt.

Baa Do

“The handful of attendees whom Robbins interrogates over the course of the movie suggest that he’s either preying on their fragile states, or that they’re just eager to embrace his laser-focused support. One prolonged moment finds Robbins engaging with a "Children of God" survivor who says she endured years of sex slavery in her youth; Robbins consoles her by appointing two men in the crowd as her supportive "uncles," a peculiar designation that somehow seems to please the whole room.”

Mate, you have totally missed the point. He appoints THREE uncles to Dawn who connected with her and agreed to support and help her FOR THE NEXT TEN years. If you were not moved by Dawn’s courage and story then I am afraid that you really have totally missed the point. You have a loooooooooong way to go before you go anywhere near a Robbins event.

Baa Do

“By existing entirely within the confines of the world he’s created, the movie actively resists any possible skepticism about his unique skill. For the most part, Berlinger’s camera just watches in awe alongside everyone else.”

The movie is about DWD, nothing else.

“Robbins is certainly quite the showman”

Errr so was Martin Luther King, Obama, even Ghandi. And so are many many rock stars. So what. Get over it, the man has appeal that he has worked on, to craft. Big deal.

Baa Do

“Instead of diving into the nature of Robbins’ appeal, "I Am Not Your Guru" offers a bafflingly one-sided look at his manipulative prowess.”

This is NOT a film about the nature of Robbins appeal. For that you need to do your own research, like talk to people who have had their lives changed. Maybe even ATTEND one of his events. Robbins is not perfect and he had never claimed to be. You sound like a teenage virgin, who has never been laid talking about how vulgar sex is. Someone who has never experienced something berating that something, somehow lacks credibility.

Baa Do

Robbins’ main schtick finds him wandering a massive room and barking out vulgarity-laced inspirational mantras…

Did you not hear the part when he explained WHY he uses vulgarity. It goes back to what Sigmund Freud (Psychoanalyst and the father of modern Psychotherapy) discovered about taboo language. Look him up.

Baa Do

“For the majority of its nearly two-hour running time, the movie focuses one of the dozen self-improvement sessions Robbins hosts around the country, where thousands of people drop $5,000 for the entrance fee to several days of lively interactive speeches.”
Seriously? That is all you got from this? The fact that it costs $5,000? For some people this is a lot of money and I applaud those people for whom it is a lot and yet still find a way to attend. For others it is not even loose change and yet they still attend AND GAIN MASSIVE VALUE from the event. If you are horrified at the cost of DWD, you better not look at what it costs to be a Platinum Partner. (for disclosure, I was a Plat and I was there when this film was made.)
Did you miss, the suicidal woman who at the age of 26 has never had a relationship, was abused from the age of 6 along with her family members, had her life completely turned around or the 19 year old who reconnected with her estranged father for the last 6 months of his life or the suicidal Hungarian) guy totally bypass you? Clearly. If all you can focus on is $5,000. BTW the 26 had over $100,000 given to her to help put her life back together by people there, a god chunk of that came from the Platinum partners. She was open and vulnerable and in that environment she was safe.

Baa Do

“Tony Robbins may have turned motivational speaking into an art form, but judging by the depiction of his workshops in the documentary "Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru," it’s also something of a religion. “
That is how is appears to you. There are people of ALL faiths in the room.

Jason Evans

This seems exactly like "pitchfork" style review. Go to a seminar and then you can have experience to actually know if there is value or not. When I was 25 I bought he tape series, Personal Power II, and went from making $4000 a month at a sales job to $25,000 a month. I know his material like the back of my hand. I did the fire walk seminar for $800 and the week long Date with Destiny seminar for $7000. I went to learn powerful techniques on how to change my state. I was leaving a job making a ton of money to open up a company, my first business, and was scared out of my mind. I had never run a business. The material I learned that day taught me how to run my brain and change my state. I still use that same tool every morning I used right before I walked on 2500 degree hot coals to change my state. Here is the best way I can describe this.

We go to school to learn things like math, science, English and so on. But they don’t teach us any skill sets that teach us how to succeed and achieve. That’s what he and others like him teach and the only difference is there is no brick-and-mortar University that teaches these skills sets. So because of that, material like this is taught in a seminar model. So to the outsiders that do not attend seminars in a regular basis and they see people jumping up and down it appears cult like. But the way I look at it is, it simply education done with the seminar model. So imagine learning actual techniques on how to succeed in achieving in school. But instead you learn them in a seminar model.

Brandon

I can’t say anything about the film because I haven’t seen it yet, but Tony Robbins is Awesome. What he teaches you works if you use it and you can also tell that he really cares about improving peoples lives. His programs and seminars are not cheap, but in my opinion they are worth it. I just attended the Unleash the Power Within in West Palm Beach, FL and had the best 4 days of my life.

    jimmytwolips

    And what have you done since? That’s the problem people have with Tony Robbins… He makes people feel good at the event they paid $5000 for… Then they go home & go right back to their lives… Nothing’s changed — Except they had 4 fun days & are $5000 poorer.

    That seems odd to me…

Jarrett Luehrsen

"And for anyone not automatically convinced of his pure intentions…" This is a great observation. If you do find yourself comfortable with his intentions, however, the "manipulative" process is irrefutably effective. Better yet, his mindless followers are winning gold medals, Grammys, Oscars, leading Fortune 500 companies, countries, charities… No documented genocidal gatherings to my knowledge, although I haven’t paid the $5,000 bucks to get into the big show. Maybe you can convince your editor to do a follow-up story.

C.C.

-"There’s an undeniable creepy aspect to the ability of one man to hold court over a single crowd eager to meet his every directive."
You mean like Barack Obama at a stadium in Colorado surrounded by Greek Columns?!

    jimmytwolips

    Yeah… He’s the president… Tony Robbins is an NLP rip-off guru who sells false dreams for a lot of money… (and burns people’s feet)

Stanley

Most of the folks I know who’ve gone for Robbins have said they feel great after his seminars, but it all wears off after a week or less.

Jonathan Tipton Meyers

I wonder what the thousands of dignitaries, Fortune 500 execs, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Bryon Scott, Gorbachev, etc, not to mention the thousands of underprivileged he hasn’t donated money to, but workshops and seminars might have to say about his lasting effect on them. It’s really convenient to write a "pitchfork" style review and it may have felt that way to you, but a little easy research could yield a more 3 dimensional approach. Thank you.

Rose

It is very evident that these seminars are only available to the upper 5%.

Five thousand dollars is a unattainable for the majority of people, those living in a cycle poverty or intergenerational trauma, that wholly preoccupies their minds so that they do not have the mental capacity to think beyond the moment.

To all of the “Robbins converts”, please recognize these **real** limitations that the majority of the population experience. You are in the enviable position of being a “philosopher king” because you are not struggling to meet your basic needs.

Tony Robbins is another example of, mostly white, First World privilege preaching to his choir.

jennie spooner

i watched this movie 4 times on Netflix ..if you say anything bad you just dont get it ..its wonderful and he helps many people maybe someday he can help me

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