Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru
Directed by Joe Berlinger
Opens July 15 in theaters and on Netflix
A concert movie for the audiobook crowd, Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru sets out to document “Date with Destiny,” a six-day seminar conducted by the eponymous motivational speaker, bestselling author, and international self-help magnate. Ostensibly an unprecedented view of an exclusive event that had until now remained hidden from the public view, it amounts to an infomercial, albeit one slick and involving enough to justify charging for admission.
After all, even a sales pitch for a novelty blender can have its fascinations, and there’s considerably more action on display here: “Date with Destiny” resembles in equal measures an arena-rock show, a religious revival meeting, and a positive-thinking boot camp. Tickets start at a cool five grand, and the 2,500 fans filling the room are there on the promise of a life-altering experience; in short, there are a lot of feelings flying around. Robbins himself stands over six and a half feet tall, roughly the mass of a medium-size bear, with an anvil for a jaw and a gravelly, resounding voice. Drama is in ample supply, so that all that’s left for director Joe Berlinger to do is keep the cameras rolling and pointed in the right direction.
At one point Robbins calls himself a “practical psychologist,” and at others he speaks about his work as a spiritual mission, but on the evidence of the film, he is most fundamentally a performer—one with an instinctive feel for a crowd and a pat moral. To call him an orator, though, is to miss the point. His true métier is engineering public spectacles of performative catharsis; his shtick is entry-level psychoanalysis and secondhand prosperity gospel. This is not to question his sincerity, but chiefly because there are better questions to ask.
One such question is about the ugly chauvinism pervading Robbins’s advice—he seems to believe in an equilibrium of narrow gender roles as a prerequisite to happiness. Another is about his audience. A group this self-selected must presumably have some particular characteristics, but Robbins is deeply invested in the idea that his wisdom is universal.
It’s hard to believe that such questions escaped Berlinger, a veteran filmmaker whose résumé includes a classic of showbiz behind-the-scenes (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) as well as acclaimed investigative work (Brother’s Keeper, the Paradise Lost trilogy)—more likely they fell victim to the politics of access for this Netflix-produced special. One doesn’t have to judge Berlinger for simply filming the story he had in front of him, but one doesn’t have to watch it, either.