The premise of Free the Mind – that meditation and “mindfulness” training can provide a drug-free remedy to such disorders as posttraumatic stress syndrome in war veterans and attention-deficit disorder and anxiety in children – seems plausible, but Danish director Phie Ambo’s documentary only scratches the surface of a complex subject.
Focusing on experiments by University of Wisconsin professor Richard Davidson, Free the Mind follows three characters. Two are guilt-racked U.S. vets – Steve, a military interrogator in Afghanistan who was “a horrible person,” and Rich, a commander in Iraq who watched men die. Their accounts of their obsessive thought patterns, sleepless nights and detachment from reality is undoubtedly moving.
Similarly, you feel for Will, the adorable kindergarten kid with ADHD who slaps his own face and is terrified of elevators. But the neuroscience is, as Davidson acknowledges, in its “baby steps” (an animated sequence attempting to show the vets’ busy brains doesn’t help), and the upbeat conclusions the film reaches fall somewhere between science and proselytizing. As the credits roll, you half expect to see a 1-800 number where operators are standing by to sell meditation tapes.