Alex Mar, in this fascinating close-up, follows three young adult Americans who traverse their own unique paths as mystics-in-the-making. All have to learn to cope with, among other things, a society that largely marginalizes the spiritualities of non-traditional religions. You learn this goes far beyond getting weird looks by others, however, as the three narrate the personal meaning and struggles their counter-culture journeys bring to their daily lives.
Kubali, an African American young man from Rochester, NY, is the first we meet. He is studying to be a medium and a healer within the spiritualist church of his upbringing. Ever since he was a child he could hear, through his gift of clairaudience, his name being called by spirits. Chuck is the second to whom we are introduced. A Lakota Sioux, raised as a Christian on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, his plans in his teens to be a priest are interrupted when he is introduced to native spirituality. After a drunken crisis, he decides to change his ways and pursue his heritage under the guidance of the local medicine man. The third and final person we learn about is Morpheus, a self-identified witch from California. Growing up she spent much time in the woods, and after the Santa Cruz earthquake found herself spontaneously going into trances and chanting. Just as with the first two, she underwent training—Morpheus with a local witch in the faerie tradition while she worked at a pagan shop.
Trees, nature’s mystical beings, provide a unifying visual theme for the film as they center in ceremonies for all three narratives. We see Kubali and the spiritualists at a gathering place in their retreat center in the woods, called “inspiration stump” where mediumship is practiced and honed. The piercings Chuck undergoes during Sundances allow him to hang suspended from a tree by his own skin, allowing his spirit to fly free from his body. For Morpheus, her rituals take place under trees and in forest glades, surrounded by them. Throughout the interweaving of the stories, each self-narrated, we learn how the need to make ends meet keeps the three functioning as a part of society even while their main life’s purpose is oriented away from the hustle and bustle and toward the spirit-world.
American Mystic is a hauntingly courageous look at those who live close to “the other side,” trying to integrate that awareness in the midst of an increasingly materialistic and technological society.