Here’s a query that’s often being discussed amongst my circle of movie buff friends: can we hold a filmmaker’s personal life against him when it comes to reviewing his work? Charlie Chaplin is reported to have been a grade-A asshole, does that take away the sweetness of his screen persona? Roman Polanski drugged and sodomized a little girl in the ’70s, does that negate the greatness of “Chinatown”? And how about Victor Salva, a convicted child molester who confessed to forcing oral sex on a twelve year old while directing him in a film about boys being terrorized by circus clowns?

When Salva returned to Hollywood after serving 15 months in prison for his crimes, he resumed making movies about young men in peril, notably the “Jeepers Creepers” flicks. He also made the ridiculously homoerotic “Powder” and now he’s back with this here “Peaceful Warrior”, which makes Powder look macho. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture so intent on showing its male protagonist in various stages of undress, discomfort and vulnerability.

I don’t know, man, maybe I’m indulging in double standards. I guess the morals of directors who keep making movies about half-naked teenage chicks being preyed on by murderous bastards are equally questionable. But am I not supposed to be suspicious of a film that opens with a slow-mo shot of a sweaty, straining male gymnast in an ultra tight spandex suit that molds his crotch? Should I forget about Salva’s off-screen troubles and just go along with the story of this gymnast’s “miraculous transformation at the hands of an unlikely teacher” (as it’s described in the press notes)? Heck, the mentor character is nicknamed Socrates, you can hardly get a less subtle nod towards a historical pseudo-justification of pedophilia. “Hey, those old Greek philosophers got it on with pretty young men, why can’t I do the same?”

Not homoerotic enough for you? The gymnast has persistent visions of the old wise man, including once while he’s in bed and about to get it on with some babe! Socrates eventually openly asks him to stop having sex with all those silly girls and to really focus on his teachings. Which, by the way, includes oh so instructive things like standing on a table in a squatting/bend-over position for five minutes and having a bitch-slapping contest. This is basically the dirty old man version of “The Karate Kid”.


But here I am going on and on about the disturbing subtext and barely writing about the rest of the movie. I’ll give Salva this, he’s a pretty skilful director, if one a bit overtly prone to make excessive use of slow-motion, jarring sound effects and other mise en scène tricks that call attention to themselves. This is supposed to be a straight (ha!) inspirational drama, but you never forget that Salva is a genre filmmaker first. The movie often flirts with fantastic/horror elements, notably in a dream sequence where the gymnast faces his doppelganger (don’t ask).

The philosophy of the Socrates character, played with much gravitas by Nick Nolte, is not devoid of worth, even though it consists of nothing more than obvious Yodaisms about getting in touch with your inner peace/Force, being in the moment, “the journey is what brings us happiness, not the destination”, etc. There’s kind of a super-hero origin thing going on here, where the powers that the protagonist acquires are focus and a better appreciation of life (“Carpe diem, Batman!”). But ultimately, this is your typical sports drama, with an extra dose of inspirational sap. Plus a lot of ripped, hairless ephebe flesh. Make of that what you will.