By Dan Clendenin
I Am Maris: Portrait of a Young Yogi (2018)
Maris Degener was thirteen-years-old and a freshman in high school when her mother picked her up at school one day and asked why she was wearing sweat pants and a hoodie on a sweltering hot day. She then noticed the precise row of cuts on Maris’s wrist. Later she found a tupperware full of vomit in her bedroom. Sleep problems, anxiety attacks, hair loss, a dangerously low heart rate, and dramatic weight loss landed Maris in the hospital with a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. The first part of this film is an unvarnished account of the family’s experience of this terrible mental illness. The documentary features interviews with her parents and therapist who unpack the layers of ignorance, fear, denial, blame and guilt. The second part of this film is very different, and made me uncomfortable. After her hospitalization, Maris discovered yoga, and even became a certified yoga instructor at the age of fifteen, as a way to find healing for her body, soul, and spirit. Her story was picked up by NPR, Seventeen, and CNN (“Teen Overcomes Anorexia Through Yoga”). Her Instagram account (yogamaris) has forty thousand followers. Maris went to college. Yes, there’s an acknowledgement of the brutal reality that mental illness is a life long struggle for most people, with no easy solutions. And it’s clear that many young people have found help in Maris’s blog and teaching. But is it really helpful to title the last two parts of this story “Exhalted Warrior” and “Hero Pose?” The website for the film says that it wants to offer a “hopeful and helpful point of view” that with mental illness “healing is truly possible.” But should we really ask or expect this sort of thing from a recovering twenty-year-old girl? I watched this film on Netflix Streaming.
Dan Clendenin: firstname.lastname@example.org
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