Human Sun

By Carl Bird McLaughlin | Drama
A spiritual teacher has a mental breakdown -- and it's showtime. His only hope comes from an unassuming source.

A “spiritual teacher” and guru of sorts, Corey Forsythe pulls in large audiences, drawn to his teachings about meaning and inner peace. Charismatic, empathetic and a great showman, he’s able to deliver a message of hope and deliverance to his followers.

But underneath the persona, Corey struggles with his demons. Backstage he is edgy, angry and bitter. He has spent his whole life helping others, but he clearly can’t help himself. Still the show must go on, and onstage he delivers the goods.

After one such performance, though, a young follower named Zach asks to meet him backstage. Faced with Zach’s purity of intention and earnestness, Corey faces his own sense of hypocrisy, leading to an unexpectedly intense encounter.

Writer-director Carl Bird McLaughlin’s meditative drama is about a long concealed inner struggle coming to the surface, as well as the gap between public presentation and private self. While nearly everyone can relate to repressing some of their personal strugglings to “get along” in life, Corey is someone who draws people to him by promising a sense of authenticity and wholeness to his follows — an authenticity that he himself believes he doesn’t have. He can play at it onstage, but offstage is a different story.

McLaughlin, who also stars as Corey, captures his main character’s struggle with thoughtful craftsmanship across the board. The writing is pared down in dramatic scope — just one performance and its aftermath — but the ideas and emotions run deep. The story is given life by a terrific set of performances that underplay the huge chasms of emotion each character is dealing with, and it never veers into melodrama.

The camerawork intently focuses on the characters, and the intimacy of the close angles and shots — a visual language befitting a story about inner spiritual journeys — gives us a window into the conflict within Corey, as well the way his message resonates within members of his audience.

When Corey’s work particularly resonates with Zach, the moment is genuine in emotion, with the two connecting deeply onstage. But offstage is another matter, and when Corey and Zach encounter one another again, their meeting has a much different emotional tenor –one that exposes Corey’s toxic inner demons, especially when he’s granted the grace and kindness he himself gave to Zach.

The short perhaps raises questions about the authenticity of self-help movements and perhaps the need of people to seek “gurus” who are just as fallibly human as the flocks they tend. But overall “Human Sun” is about the difficulty of the spiritual journey, and about how sometimes it is easier to bestow compassion and empathy to others than to one’s self.

There are no easy answers or a tidy ending in the short, and it’s clear from the film’s conclusion that Corey still has a long way to go to embrace his own message of hope. But it leaves viewers with their own meditative space to contemplate their own journeys in life, and how our own inner obstacles keep others from connecting and contributing to us, even in our darkest vulnerabilities.

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