When I recently read The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, written by Dan Millman in 1980, I think my eyes actually stuttered. Its hard-hitting lines and empowering message have equally impressed countless other readers—one fan even wrote on the Internet Movie Database that the novel “literally changed my DNA.” It’s no surprise then that screenwriter Kevin Bernhardt and director Victor Salva decided to bring the story—now called just Peaceful Warrior—to the screen.
The Way of the Peaceful Warrior is the semi-autobiographical story of main character Dan’s metaphysical journey toward self-enlightenment. The novel introduces Dan as a talented and egotistical gymnast at UC Berkley. Then, by a not-so-coincidental turn of fate, Dan meets an enigmatic auto mechanic late one night. Dan nicknames the always-curious mechanic Socrates.
Socrates lives simply yet deliberately; he calls himself a “peaceful warrior” and offers to lend Dan a hand in exploring a more meaningful approach to life. The story unfolds as Socrates mentors Dan in his discovery of what a peaceful warrior is and how such a warrior lives.
The novel weaves love, pain, passion and heartbreak together to fabricate a story that is real and vibrant. Millman’s words are poetic yet plain while Socrates’ maxims are more poignant and riddled. The novel cleverly applies modern techniques of magical realism in a present-day setting to the age-old themes of clarity and enlightenment. Millman challenges the reader to control his or her mind, to pay attention and to find the extraordinary in every seemingly ordinary moment.
Since the novel’s publishing, Millman has enjoyed a cult-like following of hippies and mainstreamers who find truth in his words. The novel has been translated into 29 languages and has even inspired “enlightened warrior” summer camps where campers learn, among other things, the “simple secrets to peace and happiness in everyday life.”
Salva is an interesting choice for a director. Known for the thrillers Jeepers Creepers, Powder and Jeepers Creepers II, he’s also found the time to plead guilty to five counts of child molestation.
But Salva’s flair for drama and details should highlight the more subtle points of the story. Early reviews point to strong performances by the cast as a major strength in the film’s execution. Scott Mechlowicz plays Dan and Nick Nolte plays Socrates; Amy Smart also stars and Millman himself makes a cameo.
Both promotions and reviews point to its closely following the plot and tone of the original story. “When you hear the truth, it sounds familiar,” said actor Jim Carrey after he saw the movie. “Like seeing a reflection of something you already possess. This film is that clear and simple reflection. I enjoyed every moment.”
If the movie truly does justice to the book, it should be more than just an entertaining manifesto. It should express personal discovery and empowerment. According to Straw Weisman, associate producer of What the Bleep Do We Know?, the film has indeed captured this sentiment.
“It’s like Rocky for the soul,” he said. MTW