Mission: Joy (Finding Happiness in Troubled Times) | Review | Tribeca Film Festival 2021


Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes his friend The Dalai Lama as his "mischievous spiritual brother". Together the two have over a century's worth of wisdom to share. Mission: Joy from Louie Psihoyos and Peggy Callahan is an often intimate and overwhelmingly insightful glimpse into that enlightenment, wishing to go beyond clichéd phrases and delving deep into the science of compassion.

Inspired by their 2016 published book, The Book of Joy, the film features a conversation between them in 2015, where the two spent a week together. Before now, the footage has remained private, but this beautiful ninety-minute film unpacks the lessons hidden deep within and remains ever necessary for a time such as this. 

Mission: joy swells with delight from the beginning, its central theme present in the opening seconds. As described by Tutu's daughter, the pair's energy mimics that of eight-year-old children. Their laughter and teasing are contagious, and the audience immediately settles into a place of comfort.

The definition of joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness, but the spiritual meaning goes beyond that. It becomes a state of being, where despite the struggle, it remains an immovable God-given gift that can be postponed but not taken by worldly affairs. The embodiment of that nestles between Desmond Tutu and The Dalai Lama, separated by different faiths but connected by humanity. A breakdown of each of their lives, entwined with elegantly crafted animation, is the backdrop to a history lesson of both their countries and ethos. The use of multiple artistic mediums adds that human touch and makes it accessible for many viewers. 

There is an established pace in the film. Despite its sleek run-time, it somewhat feels longer, although this is welcome due to the encouragement that comes from its subject. It has no interest in leaving you with momentary empty fulfilment. Mission: Joy invites you into its education of science and psychology, giving you meaningful and sustainable ways to adopt its philosophy. However, ultimately, the strength lies when the two are on screen together, interacting and listening intently to what the other has to say. 

It is a sturdy study on perspective and "how we are wired to be compassionate and caring for others". Such empathy is to be cherished when overwhelming headlines and stories crowd timelines and dominate our every day. The doc aims to simplify and demystify a quality often considered saint-like belonging to the Mr Rogers of this life who are "good" enough to stumble upon it. Both men confront their own battles with forgiveness and anger while pleading with humanity on a fundamental level of understanding. It's a skill, a craft to hone, and this documentary leaves the door open for those interested.

Ultimately, directors Psihoyos and Callahan remind us that within the quiet, there are lessons to be learned. The world is bleak on the surface, but beneath, people are dancing, laughing and playing - may we all find a way to access that spiritual joy. 

Mission: Joy (Finding Happiness in Troubled Times) is screening as part of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. 

Ticket information can be found here: https://tribecafilm.com/films/mission-joy-finding-happiness-in-troubled-times-2021


For further info on the mission visit https://missionjoy.org

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