In October 2009, motivational speaker James Arthur Ray was at the top of his game — he was the rising star in the $10-billion self-help industry who had been championed by Oprah Winfrey. Then, a sweat lodge ceremony he conducted went terribly wrong: Three participants died, and 19 were hospitalized.
Perhaps what’s most mesmerizing about this film by Jenny Carchman is how it peels back the layers of Ray’s persona without uncovering anything fraudulent. Ray proves to be an all-American naïf who drinks his own Kool-Aid and believes in the power of positive thinking, even after serving two years in prison and being released to a life of sharply reduced fame, fortune and influence. “There’s a lot of hubris that comes with being a savior,” Ray finally observes, managing to transform even the troubling saga of his own rise and fall into a simple parable of self-enlightenment.