Film Review: The Medicine

reviewed by Bilge Ebiri
The Medicine movie poster

The medicine referred to in the title of Farzin Toussi’s documentary is ayahuasca, the fascinating, elaborate, and shamanic Amazonian concoction that the film seeks to promote as both a spiritual and a physical remedy to many of our ills. It’s an informative movie, to be sure, explaining ayahuasca’s roots, the science underlying its use, and the important place it holds in native cultures of South America. All of which is particularly useful given some of the woo-woo language that has developed around ayahuasca: It’s refreshing to learn about the scientific grounding behind its effects.

That said, the film might have benefited from a more compelling visual style. Toussi interviews various health experts, healers, tribal leaders, and people whose lives have benefited from the use of ayahuasca (including former NFL player Kerry Rhodes), and that can make for a lot of dry moments. Given the spiritual and mythical place this brew holds in these cultures, it might have been exciting to find a more cinematic way to convey some of these observations. The most interesting subject here is Taita Juanito Guillermo Chindoy Chindoy, a spiritual leader of the Inga people (descendants of the Incas), who demonstrates a lot of modesty and charm as he discusses the history and power of ayahuasca, which he has been studying for his whole life.

Some of the information and opinions offered might raise eyebrows: Ayahuasca clearly has important benefits, but it’s tough to stomach footage of neo-Nazi marches in Charlottesville as an example of a social ill that the ancient medicine can solve. (It’s going to take more than ayahuasca to stamp out racism.) But even if it can’t cure hate, ayahuasca clearly has benefits that we’re only just beginning to understand. For anyone interested in knowing more about this remedy, The Medicine offers a valuable introduction. 

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