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Review: Meditation documentary ‘The Portal’ doesn’t feel at one with itself

Intriguingly, “The Portal” makes the case for mindfulness for its collective benefits for all of humanity, not just the individual.
Intriguingly, “The Portal” makes the case for mindfulness for its collective benefits for all of humanity, not just the individual.
(Mangurama)

This documentary about meditation unexpectedly begins in chaos. The twitchy edits at the start of “The Portal” introduce a world in disarray and induce anxiety, but its later arguments for mindfulness are more likely to lull viewers to sleep than create a sense of calm.

The driving rhythm of those opening moments — and the film’s strong visuals and sense of style — make sense once learning that first-time director Jacqui Fifer was previously a DJ. She and her co-writer Tom Cronin don’t merely establish the turmoil around the globe; they also focus on the pain and trauma present in the lives of six specific people. Through reenactments, animation and interviews, their often-powerful stories present how meditation transformed their existences.

What’s interesting about “The Portal” isn’t its style or the idea that meditation is beneficial. It’s that it makes the case for mindfulness for its collective benefits for humanity, not just individuals. In backing up its claims, the documentary also consults a robotics engineer, a cognitive neuroscientist/futurist, an evolutionary philosopher and the physical embodiment of the uncanny valley, Sophia the robot.

This is all fascinating in isolation, but transitions between stories and the experts’ insights never feel cohesive. “The Portal” also lacks the depth to fully engage — and convince — the viewer. If you weren’t already meditating, you’re unlikely to care enough to listen to the inevitable closing call to action.

‘The Portal’
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 1, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica
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