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The Secret

Australia/USA 2006
Directed by
Drew Heriot
90 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1 stars

The Secret

To call this extended promotional video a film is to give it a status it does not deserve. Certainly it starts off well enough with a montage suggesting the history of "The Secret" as a kind of Holy Grail or Philosopher's Stone but this is fairly quickly jettisoned in favour of a compilation format of puffed-up American self-help spin merchants whose you-can-have-it-all nostrums are illustrated with deadly unimaginative fidelity. As it approaches its end this harangue reaches a level of repetitious intensity that Josef Goebbels would no doubt have found commendable.

Originally made in partnership with Channel Nine who (understandably) decided not to air it, The Secret apparently has become a huge commercial success for its originator, Melbourne-based television producer, Rhonda Byrne. Whilst this might be seen as both a vindication of the material and a validation of its efficacy this success is not due to any intrinsic merits but rather to its timely New Age packaging of familiar get-rich-quick bromides and fortuitous exposure on populist television chat shows such as Oprah, Larry King and the newest entrant into the stakes, Ellen De Generis, where its simplistic grandiloquence has no doubt found purchase amongst the multitudes of have-nots aspiring to the appurtenances of The Great American Dream (and with dire predictability Hollywood has apparently signed on to make a sequel).

The talking heads who appear in The Secret are variously identified as Philosopher, Metaphysician or my personal favourite, Visionary, and so on. Whether or not they have so nominated themselves or these are titles that have been bestowed upon them by the makers I do not know but the aura of supposed legitimacy that is lent to their words is entirely bogus.

A quick check on the internet reveals that Dr Joe Vitale, Metaphysician, is Dr. Joe Vitale ("Mr. Fire!") who specializes in marketing, publicity, selling, hypnosis, copywriting, books, fitness, metaphysics, "The Secret" and anything else he cares to comment on; Bob Doyle, Author, is Bob Doyle internationally acclaimed author, coach and mentor of "Wealth Beyond Reason"; Bob Proctor, Philosopher, runs a year-long e-coaching program called "Life Success"; Jack Canfield, Author, is "America's Success Coach" whilst James Arthur Ray, Author is President/CEO of James Ray International an organisation that will apparently show you how to make more money and become more successful...and so it goes. In other words all these so-called "teachers" are motivational spruikers of one kind or another, who presumably (as all their websites feature links to The Secret website) have entered into some kind of cross-promotional arrangement with Byrne to expound their rhetoric.

The core principle expounded in The Secret is far from being any kind of secret but rather has been presented in one form or another in a host of self-help books since the days of Norman Vincent Peale and Napoleon Hill. In this respect it is unremarkable and even contains some admirable truths but there are three aspects of it that are particularly dubious if not, in the hands of the gullible, downright dangerous.

First is that its message is so unreflectively aligned with the ideology of American consumer capitalism. Thus for example, the contribution of Joe Vitale to the history of metaphysics is to advise us to ask ourselves "what (we) would like from the catalogue of the universe" whilst Jack Canfield lets us know that by using "The Secret" he now lives in " a $4.5 million mansion...(has)...a wife to die for...(and gets)... to vacation in all the fabulous spots of the world...".

Second, whilst at the same time exploiting the notion that it is transmitting an age-old truth, The Secret is so wanting in real wisdom. No speaker gives an example of how their supposed knowledge has any application beyond the acquisition of personal material wealth. With mind-numbing fervour they exhort us to visualize that dream vacation (cut to people on jet skis or silhouetted in deck chairs against setting sun) or dream car (here a particularly tacky sequence of some dufus pretending to drive his non-existent car) but no speaker reveals how the transformative power of "The Secret" taught them to be more constructive people on a personal, societal or ecological level. At a time when the West is finally acknowledging that Mother Nature is not inexhaustible and that all-you-can-eat affluence does not simply equal happiness, the no-limits rhetoric propounded here is profoundly misguided.

Third, the pseudo-evangelical ask-and-you-shall-receive promise, unmoored from the traits of self-discipline, persistence, courage, hard work, luck and any of other real essentials of business success offers an image of easy riches that is little better than outright deception and that in any other sector of the business world would attract the attention of government regulators. The reality is of course that the monetary success that The Secret's success gurus claim for themselves is based on telling other people how to be monetarily successful or, in other words, selling hot air.

So there's your secret. Well, what did you expect for $29.99?

FYI: Whilst die-hard New Agers will no doubt also lap-up What The Bleep Do We Know? (2004), a far more credible treatment of related subject matter is to be found in Conversations With God (2006).




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