James gives himself 12 months before he has ‘a license to kill himself’, he sets off to the amazon rainforest with hopes of finding a shaman who can save his life.
Director: Raz Degan
Writer: Raz Degan
Star: James Freeman
How “The Last Shaman” came to be isn’t discussed in the film, but this documentary might be less disquieting if it had been. After trying the hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca, Raz Degan, an Israeli-born actor, sought to make a movie about the brew’s ostensible medicinal powers.
In the process, he met James Freeman, an American suicidal from depression. Fearing that his illness was intractable — despite medication, a hospital stay and electroconvulsive therapy — Mr. Freeman traveled to Peru for shamanic healing. (We meet his apprehensive physician parents in the Boston area.)
Mr. Degan is an unobtrusive presence in a film that would have benefited from overt, Socratic questioning. Mr. Freeman attends a shamanic ceremony in which a man has a fatal reaction to the ayahuasca. Later, in Peru, he meets a shaman from Kentucky who tells him that “true healers don’t charge.” The most helpful shaman is Pepe, who lives in a Shipibo village.
It’s possible to have doubts about ayahuasca (which, we learn, has been increasingly commercialized) and still find Mr. Freeman’s resolve uplifting. Even he acknowledges that novelty and psychosomatic benefits may contribute to his convalescence. During one stretch, he lives in isolation and keeps a video diary.
In an unfortunate choice, Mr. Degan augments the ayahuasca scenes with bits of freakout editing — as if he could show us what’s inside Mr. Freeman’s head. Perhaps the director is tipping his hand: It’s hard to believe a disclaimer at the end, which says the film is not intended to suggest a course of treatment.
– BEN KENIGSBERG, NY Times