Aldous Huxley The Gravity of Light traces Huxley’s intellectual and spiritual development through a series of re-enactments, montages, archival footage and computer animation. The production design splinters Huxley’s life into fractal recombinations of the ideas, experiences and influences that shaped his life.
The documentary charts Huxley’s life from the publication of Crome Yellow: A Novel (London: Chatto & Windus, 1921) to Island (New York: Harper & Row, 1962). Even the titles are epithets (my favorite being “The Singularity of Mind”). The hidden thread that runs through Hockenhull’s documentary are excerpts from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interviews that Huxley did in 1957. Hockenhull offers viewers an Impressionist snapshot of the author best known for Brave New World (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co. Inc.,1932). A wake-up calling card rather than a dry instruction manual.
Jump cut to Jean Houston reminiscing about Huxley at a 1994 symposium. She reminds the audience of Huxley’s passion for Homeric Greek and leads them in a call-refrain. Having summoned Huxley’s creative daimon, Houston will later suggest that his life’s turning point was Eyeless in Gaza (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1936), which was his first overt spiritual work. Huxley, anticipating James Hillman’s archetypal psychology, observes: “The seed grows according to its own being.” Transition to sequence on social persona: What ‘setting’ created the ‘set’ for Aldous Huxley’s gnostic voyage of inner discovery? Huxley identifies a period during the 1930s of depression and life-crisis. He writes pacifist articles and receives death-threats from patriotic English-men. He notes that war manifests as group intoxication and barbarian hysteria. He experiments with the Alexander Technique’s psycho-physical exercises as a defense against body-military drills and punishment football. He records sermons for the BBC. It’s not enough. The external world triggers internal dissonance. Huxley quotes a letter (21 October 1949) he wrote to George Orwell that conveys what he felt these trends would generate: “The nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four will modulate into Brave New World.” This observation grew into Brave New World Revisited (New York: Harper & Collins, 1958), in which Huxley re-examined how his dystopian vision had come into being. (…)
The documentary, true to Hockenhull’s vision, illustrates the contours of Huxley’s life at the expense of biographical details. His exploration of philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti and flirtation with Zen, for example, are barely mentioned. Rather, Hockenhull evokes in the viewer a glimpse of the questions that Huxley wrestled with and the subjective nature of his explorations. As with Derek Jarman’s sparse Wittgenstein (1993), Hockenhull relies on actors and the creative use of sparse sets. His camera tracks from phone to phone as Huxley’s thoughts resonate on the soundtrack, the camera gliding over flickering film lights, melted ice creams and tables. By juxtaposing the focus of a yogi with flower petals, Hockenhull hints at the polarity of consciousness, will and emotions that are transmuted by personal alchemy. His own on-camera appearances are detached and ironic.
Huxley became the visionary laureate for dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Within years of his death, The Beatles paid tribute by featuring him on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and Stanley Kubrick condensed the Vision Quest with the Stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Those viewers wanting a summary of his novels or his biography will have to look elsewhere. Aldous Huxley: The Gravity of Light will explain to you, instead, why Huxley remains an important influence on contemporary psychedelic culture and spiritual-oriented philosophies. “If the work has any value,” Huxley reminds us, “that is it represented the record of a long learning process.”