You've heard of The Secret, right? It spread like wildfire a few years ago thanks to Oprah, as hordes of hopefuls jumped on the bandwagon of positive thinking to manifest their deepest desires. But simple acts of positivity aren't the only way some strive to bring good into their lives. For Baba Dez, it's Sex Magic: "the ritual of channeling thought, emotions, and physical energy during lovemaking as a prayer to manifest your dreams and desires." In other words, getting laid to get what you want.
Sex Magic: Manifesting Maya delves into the romantic turmoil of Dez, a sacred sexual healer who meets the woman of his dreams, Maya. The pair practice sexual healing and therapy in Sedona until she can no longer take his polyamorous ways. His long list of lovers ranks well past a thousand, and having reached her limit, she decides to leave Dez for another man. Devastated, he tries to get her back through Sex Magic; in essence, trying to get her back by doing the precise thing that drove her away.
Like a lovesick schoolboy, Dez becomes needy -- calling her, praising her, following her, all the while engaging in sex magic. He takes on new lovers, works on a book, and enjoys the perks of polyamory. But he also reveals the pain of his loss, taping himself crying and ranting over his solitude, and even entertaining the notion of a monogamous relationship. At times it looks like he might succeed as Maya flirts with the idea of going back to him, but the inclination never seems very strong.
If you've had any contact with the metaphysical world, this film plays out just as you'd imagine. It's obvious that Jonathan Schell and Eric Liebman don't buy into Dez's view of life. First conceived as a cinematic look into the work, the film quickly found focus in Dez's desperation to win Maya back, while also lightly dipping into the comedy and possible dangers inherent in Dez's sexual, erm, healing, and the distinct possibility that his spirituality is muddled by sexual addiction and naivete.
This is, 100%, sex. In shockingly candid scenes, we see manual sexual manipulation, intercourse, and nudity as Dez frolics in his birthday suit and sexes the day away. In one scene straight out of Shortbus, there is even a little humming straight into the tuckus. As Dez earnestly interacts with his clients, the audience laughs. It's hard not to.
However, not all scenes are funny, as brief moments outline the dangers and perks of the practice. One practitioner "felt like she had been raped" after a session with Dez, and while they try to work it out on camera, it's quite clear that there's no middle ground or agreement to be made. She sees a blurring of the lines between sex work and sex conquest, and he does not. Other scenes show redeeming aspects. In one, he works with a woman who has uncovered memories of sexual abuse. She describes how she began to over-eat to feel strong and unattractive, sure that this would keep her safe from future attacks. Dez doesn't engage in any sexual behavior with her, but simply urges her to talk about her feelings, praises her, and holds her.
In these darker moments, you begin to get a sense of the work and Dez's life, but all too quickly, it's back to the free love and laughs. If the documentary was relaying a lifestyle or story the masses could relate to, this treatment would be fine. One doesn't need to have a trip to the coffee shop explained, a day at the office, or conflict with a colleague. In the world of sacred sexual healing, however, it is necessary. Even if we can't relate or completely believe the hows and whys behind the chanting and seeming silliness, it would be nice to gain some semblance of understanding, instead of just laughing as folks dance and chant.
Humor is the dark king of the Sex Magic story. We're not laughing with Dez, we're laughing at him. The theater is a sea of guffaws as he discusses his work (and does the many explicit practices the NSFW trailer reveals). It's understandable; when you reveal yourself so completely in a public space you invite such reactions. Nevertheless, there's an undercurrent of judgment and derision. Dez is real, no matter how surreal his life seems; he's not a comic creation made for our amusement.
By focusing on his broken heart and strange outlook rather than explaining his work or the controversy of his practices, Sex Magic: Manifesting Maya doesn't really offer any understanding to outsiders about the work and people, and that's the documentary's ultimate undoing. There are points of interest, but by not taking them seriously, and offering little depth, the film becomes nothing more than a way to laugh at some New Age nuts, so to speak.