In Search of God follows a young American girl of Indian descent’s escape from Los Angeles’s acquisitive ethos to Majuli, a remote island in India, where she can ask herself, and a selection of gurus, “What does it all mean?” Pollyanna, I mean Klavita, feels immediately at home wearing traditional garb, observing the simple lives of the locals and concluding, over and over, that happiness is antithetical to material possession—as she types on her PowerBook inside her bamboo hut.
This is didactic self-help drivel of the worst kind, as filmmaker Rupam Sarmah creates a return-to-the-origin narrative contaminated by what Kathryn Bond Stockton would surely call “kid Orientalism.” Images of an exotic land full of smiling children whose “lack of technological advances” (as Klavita puts it in the cringe-inducingly hokey voiceover) only make them organically know what would take a monk years of seclusion to find out: the secret of a joyful life. Edward Said is rolling in his grave.
Under the guise of feel-good travelogue, In Search of God attempts to please everyone by reiterating at every opportunity that your religion is just as good as mine because they are all looking for the same thing, just in different ways. There is no room for skepticism here: the truth of the subject lies in the words of the gurus. And their repressive prescriptions to Klavita’s repetitive questions go something like this: To be happy one must control one’s desire and mind and “not be controlled by exterior influences” so that people can become masters of their own life. But it isn’t the anti-Freudian naïveté behind the notion of a world where we can all be masters of our own homes if only we “give up everything” that makes this film borderline unwatchable, it’s sequences such as the one where Klavita walks on the beach asking a guru how she might start understanding the god within her (“Close your eyes and listen”) juxtaposed to intertitles such as “Human beings need to realize the difference between love and hatred” and “Water does not have any religion, air does not have any religion, earth does not have a religion!” It’s not even the content of the we-are-the-world religious rhetoric either, but how it’s all spelled out so literally and unambiguously.