What happens is that he begins to be sexually attracted to Ruth. His façade of total command over the situation begins to crumble. The tables are turned and the viewer realizes that there has been a shift of power from him to Ruth. The end of the film shows Ruth back in India, applying the principles of love learned from her guru to dedicate herself to the service of India’s poor. It is a big surprise to find that her mother has opted to join her, implying that she too has been converted to the love that her daughter exemplifies. Waters, instead, returns to America, marries his assistant, and is shown at the end caring for their twin children. Both express their love for each other, which now goes beyond sexual attraction and is marked by mutual respect for the different paths each must walk. Commentary
The Western tendency to lump together and confuse the genuine Asian spiritual master tradition with cults is brought out clearly in the film and in some of the reviews of the film. All the suspicions and prejudices of the Western mind against the guru tradition emerges in the reaction of Ruth’s family to her new way of life. The fear and rejection of the entire Asian spiritual master tradition depicted in Kramer and Alstad’s The Guru Papers, as discussed in Chapter Four, emerge in this film. The irony of it all is that the guru tradition sketched out briefly—perhaps too briefly?—at the start of the film is eventually shown to be more sane than the supposedly more healthy life style of mainstream Western society represented by Ruth’s family, which reveals itself as banal, hypocritical, sex-ridden, hedonistic and dehumanizing. Jane Campion skillfully brings out this thesis through humor (which at times becomes satire), through caricature, and through the exposure of contradictions inherent in the Western position. Redemption is only possible through genuine love and service, and whatever real love is present in the film is linked more with the guru tradition rather than with the Western way of life. The film also attacks the concept of the man of power, master of the situation, able to manipulate people toward the direction he has chosen for them. Ruth’s helplessness and vulnerability in the clutches of such power is eventually shown to be more truly liberating and life-giving. At the end, her feminine power prevails. This aspect of the film would appeal especially to feminists. Key scenes
In line with the focus of the analysis being done, this film could be entitled: “True and False Gurus.” The maternal concern of Ruth’s mother to save her daughter from the clutches of the sinister Indian guru—shown in the scenes at the start of the film—is genuine though misguided because of the prejudices bred in her by her culture. She assumes that her daughter is to be rescued and is willing to spend a fortune to bring this about, but she does not truly explore Ruth’s situation, and what it was that led her to seek peace in a different culture where spiritual values are lived more explicitly. One short scene, among others, depicts this profound failure to be interested in and to grasp the values that Ruth has found in the guru tradition. Ruth is shown surrounded by a circle of her male relatives and friends, who chant “We love you, Ruth.” The viewer cannot help but feel that the circle is actually a prison, not a means of liberation.
Dialogue between Alberione and Asian Traditions of the Spiritual Masters.