…or, religion as a second career
Neale Donald Walsch, a self-described “modern day spiritual messenger,” has built a religious empire around his Conversations with God books. These New Age self-help tomes have been world-wide best sellers, perhaps because Walsch positions spirituality as a no-fault path to wealth. Or, as he puts it early in this film, “Financial abundance and spirituality go hand-in-hand.”
This self-serving biopic presents a sanitized account of Walsch’s life from the moment when a car crash leaves him with a broken neck and no job. Living in a tent in a park outside Portland, Oregon, Walsch (played by Henry Czerny) struggles with feelings of anger and jealousy, searches fruitlessly for work, and faces the humiliation of eating out of dumpsters. He also embarrasses himself by pursuing two women, the ebullient Carly (Zillah Glory) and the engaged Liora (Vilma Silva), although the filmmakers are close-mouthed about what Walsch is trying to do with them and why it is wrong. Work at a radio station disappears when the owner goes bankrupt. Walsch is in a depressed fog on a sofa when he hears the voice of God encouraging him to start a conversation.
Walsch transcribes these talks onto notepads, has Liora type them up, then challenges a publisher to print them. From there it’s a small step to book tours, speaking engagements, television interviews, private limos, and the chance to offer advice to strangers who haven’t yet learned how to channel their inner voices into money-making machines.
Screenwriter Eric DelaBarre cuts back and forth between Walsch’s successful present and his destitute past, trying to chart some sort of moral growth in his character. But the lessons the author learns–it’s hard being unemployed, treat women as equals, pay the rent on time–are a bit too obvious for a daily horoscope, let alone feature film. For those unfamiliar with Walsch or his books, Conversations with God boils down to the assertion that God is that voice in your head, a fairly innocent concept until God starts telling you to do something wrong.
Wearing a soiled neck brace and what looks like a Halloween fright wig for a beard, Czerny glowers through Walsch’s down-and-out days like a Canadian Rasputin, fraught with feeling but lacking any real presence. He’s actually scarier when he hits the big time, his eyes darting wildly while his face is frozen in an expression of quiet concern. The rest of the cast is no better than grimly efficient, apart from the lovely Vilma Silva, who manages to bring some warmth and depth to her role as an admiring secretary.
Producer and director Scott Simon gives the film a professional polish it doesn’t really merit or need. Simon worked with Walsch in 2003 on Indigo, a film about a new generation of children whose third eye chakra psychic abilities are marked by their indigo life color auras. How seriously you take that synopsis will be a good indication of whether you are part of Conversations with God‘s target audience.
Cast: Henry Czerny, Vilma Silva, Bruce Page, Abdul Salaam el Razzac, Zillah Glory, Ingrid Boulting, Joe Ivy, Michael Goorjian, Carolyn Hennesy, Jerry McGill, Ruth DeSosa.
Credits: Produced and directed by Stephen Simon. Written by Eric DelaBarre. Based on the Conversations with God books by Neale Donald Walsch. Executive producer: Gay Hendricks. Director of photography: Joao Fernandes. Film editor: Sherril Schlesinger. Production designer: Renee Prince. Costume designer: Muriel Stockdale. Music by Emilio Kauderer. A Spiritual Cinema Circle and CWG Films presentation of a Spiritual Cinema Circle and CWG Films production.
Samuel Goldwyn Films/Color/1.85/109 Mins./Rated PG