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Review: People vs. The State of Illusion

Published: Friday, September 9, 2011

Updated: Sunday, September 11, 2011 22:09

People vs. the State of Illusion

Starring J.B. Tuttle, Michael McCormick and Austin Vickers

Directed by Scott Cervine

Not rated

Opens Friday

Grade: B

There's something you learn – typically much later in life. It's not always apparent in high school or college, where kids are typically divided into neat little packs: the nerds, the jocks, the rich kids, the artsy-types.

When we're young we strive for individuality; we talk a lot about being "real," but largely mask what we're feeling or experiencing. In part, it's because we lack the mental capacity, but we also lack the skill. College freshman don't talk about the emotional issues or the insecurities they feel before hooking up. Just as college seniors are mostly convinced that success lies in getting a job in their field with good pay and benefits.

It's not until we're older – maybe middle age – that we start to realize that the idea of being "individual" doesn't have to do with being an artist, or what kind of music you listen to, or the clothes you wear. We're all individuals. We all deal with our own thoughts, fears, insecurities and perceptions of the world. And despite even the biggest celebrities' shiny veneer; most of us wage a constant battle in our heads in the search for happiness.

What makes us seem so homogenous, perhaps, is that most of us – even from a fairly young age – are masking those thoughts and fears by doing what we think we're supposed to be doing.

It's with this idea that "People vs. The State of Illusion" – a film written and produced by Valley-based Austin Vickers starts.

In it, we see a stressed man, Aaron, talking with a friend over some drinks. He's worried about his job security, he's working too many hours. While sitting at the table, he's reminded of his daughter's performance in a school play. He rushes to see her, makes it just in time, and feels proud as he watches her.

On the drive home, he gets in a car accident; hitting and killing the other driver. He faces the prospect of losing the one thing he cares about – his daughter – and a massive prison sentence. In a flash of an eye, Aaron's seemingly "normal" life, one many working class individuals can relate to, is turned upside down.

Through Aaron's narrative, and through a series of interviews with experts, writer Austin Vickers and director Scott Cervine explore not just how Aaron, but most of the modern working class world got in some variation of this situation; and what we can do to free ourselves.

Salespeople have long known that perception is reality; the best salespeople create the perception that their object is necessary. And once the potential target "perceives" something to be necessary, they cannot live without it. Cha-ching, the sale is made.

Life isn't much different, Vickers and his experts argue.

On any given day, "PvtSoI" tells us, the human body receives 4 billion different stimuli, in the form of sight, sounds, smells, physical sensations and tastes, but our brain only processes about 2,000 of those stimuli. If we're processing less than .001 percent of the information given to us in a given day, how we can we accurately assess what is real in our lives and what is not?

The truth, Vickers and his experts argue, is that we cannot. Our brain selects what it wishes to see, and creates a daily narrative out of it. And when our brain gets stuck in a rut of perceiving the same things day in, day out; when we see no light at the end of the tunnel, no reason for hope, we seek quick, easy escapes – alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, video games.

The key lies in escaping that cycle; and opening ourselves up to what is possible; to following, for lack of a better term, our true path.

Vickers and Cervine do well laying out the logic of the film; sticking to a sound, numerical mathematical argument for their ideas; rather than delving too far into the cosmic pseudo-science that can drag films like these ("The Secret," comes to mind) down.

The score is overbearing and the acting a bit wide-eyed in the "drama" part of this "docudrama" (though Michael McCormick as "prison janitor" has a certain charm); but that's not really the focus here.

Vickers has come across an idea, a belief, he wants to share. And he does that, compelling and concisely. No doubt countless people will walk away from this film with an idea of how to shift their perceptions and their lives.

And that, for "People vs. The State of Illusion," is the point.

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