Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru Movie Poster Image
Inspiring but biased docu; lots of cursing.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 115 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The documentary shows that it's possible for people to persevere in the aftermath of terrible childhoods, traumas, accidents, and misfortune in general by taking control of their lives and actively working to help others. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tony Robbins overcame physical and mental abuse while growing up and found a way to take control of his life and be exactly the person he wanted to be; his mission in life is to help others to rise above their problems and become better versions of themselves. A woman talks openly of the years of sexual abuse she suffered while growing up in a cult, and with the help of Robbins and many of the others taking part in the "Date with Destiny" event, begins to undertake the difficult healing process, and grows to help others who have suffered similar abuse. 

Violence

Talk of sexual and physical abuse from participants in the "Date with Destiny" event. 

Sex

After working with Robbins at the event, a married couple talks openly of the best sex they have ever had later that night. Robbins makes a joking reference to "jerking off" while working with one of the participants. 

Language

Robbins frequently says "f--k" while working with participants of the "Date with Destiny" event; in interviews, he speaks of how he uses profanity to shock participants out of their complacency. "Motherf----r" is also used on occasion. "Bulls--t." Robbins makes a joking reference to "jerking off" while working with one of the participants of the "Date with Destiny" event. 

Consumerism

This film documents a six-day event called "Date with Destiny" that's offered by Tony Robbins for $5000 per person. The director of the movie had worked with Robbins in the past and had positive experiences, and while many people are shown experiencing positive life-changing moments due to working with Robbins, no one is shown who might have had a less positive experience. While clearly shown to be motivated by a desire to help people improve their lives, Robbins has also made millions of dollars through his speaking engagements, books, and recordings, as shown in the documentary by his lavish house in West Palm Beach, Florida. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru is a 2016 Netflix Original documentary that shows the inner and outer workings of one of Robbins' "Date with Destiny" seminars. While those who have benefited from Robbins' motivational speeches and books will find much to enjoy, skeptics hoping to see a documentary that asks tougher questions and digs deeper will be disappointed by the infomercial feel. In fact, the director, Joe Berlinger -- best known for films such as the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster and numerous documentaries focused on social injustice -- had positive experiences from working with Robbins in the past, and this, coupled with Robbins providing the seed money to make the film, has clearly had an impact on objectivity. There is frequent profanity: Robbins often says "f--k" to shock those he's trying to help out of their complacency. He employs methods deeply rooted in traditional notions of the masculine/feminine dynamic. Participants openly talk of the sexual and physical abuse they have experienced. Others openly talk of wanting to commit suicide. And while Robbins is shown to care about easing the sufferings of others and helping people take control of their lives, this movie should inspire discussion among parents and teens about objectivity in documentaries, and when filmmakers clearly have points of view they're trying to express. 

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What's the story?

In December 2014, Tony Robbins allowed cameras to document his six-day "Date with Destiny" seminar held in a large conference room in Boca Raton, Florida. Prior to this, only those with the means to pay $5000 to attend were allowed inside. TONY ROBBINS: I AM NOT YOUR GURU shows the highlights from this seminar, of people who have experienced terrible abuse, less-than-fulfilling relationships, and recent suicide attempts becoming deeply inspired and transformed by Robbins' mix of no-pulled-punches straight talk and motivational slogans. The preparation before and after each day's "Date with Destiny" is revealed, as well as the production at work behind the curtain and interviews with Robbins in which he talks about his background, and the hows and whys of his becoming one of the most successful motivational speakers. 

Is it any good?

The quality of this documentary is inevitably dependent on your thoughts of Robbins and his work and the self-help industry. Those who have seen and experienced the good from what he does will enjoy the in-the-moment apparent transformations of those who have suffered terrible abuse, suicide attempts, and less-than-fulfilling interpersonal relationships into more assertive and confident people given the tools to take control of their own destinies. On the other hand, skeptics will be turned off by the infomercial feel of Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru, of how there doesn't seem to be anyone of the thousands who paid $5000 a pop for their "Date with Destiny" seminar who was less than satisfied. In fact, the film's director, Joe Berlinger, worked with Robbins in the past, and said it was a "life-changing experience."

Indeed, nothing is really called into question, even as light shows and well-timed musical cues help set the groupthink mood that also works for evangelists in megachurches, pop and rock concerts held in arenas and stadiums, and dictators past and present. And it's not to say that Robbins isn't motivated to do good and to help others live better lives -- this aspect is shown before, during, and after these events as Robbins tirelessly works at least twelve hours a day with the participants. The problem is that the movie doesn't silence those cynics who would point out the long, lingering footage of his luxurious West Palm Beach mansion, or how he applies a mix of alpha-male intimidation, New Agey philosophy covered in f-bombs to sound less New Agey, and the kind of American derringdo common to Amway and Horatio Alger novels of the Gilded Age. It's just that the lack of scrutiny, of critical thought, raises as many questions as it seems to provide answers to those so desperately in need of the kind of help that typically takes years of therapy to work through. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about objectivity in documentary films like Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru. Can documentaries be objective? Should they be objective? Is it ok for a documentary to have a bias, as long as the audience is aware of it and takes this bias into consideration?

  • In this documentary, the filmmaker had positive experiences from working with Tony Robbins, and Robbins paid the seed money to get the film made. What are the ways in which this movie would be different if the filmmaker had a more negative opinion of Tony Robbins, and wanted to question the validity of what he does? What if it had been made by someone with no prior connection to Robbins? 

  • What if this documentary had been about a different topic or person, and the filmmaker had prior positive experiences with, say, a controversial religion, a scandal-plagued politician, or unpopular CEO of a multinational corporation? How would the avoidance of skepticism perhaps cheapen the overall quality of the film? 

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