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Originally published Friday, January 6, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Cosmic query: What does it mean to be one?

If 2004's well-received documentary "What the #$*! Do We Know!? " made the case for a mysterious universe in which human beings are unified...

Special to The Seattle Times

If 2004's well-received documentary "What the #$*! Do We Know!?" made the case for a mysterious universe in which human beings are unified through an overlapping of physics and spirituality, then "One: The Movie" asks what it is that prevents humanity from easily perceiving its unity — its oneness — in the first place.

A nonfiction work that includes enlightening interviews with ordinary people as well as spiritual leaders from many faiths and disciplines — made by Michigan attorney and first-time filmmaker Ward M. Powers — "One: The Movie" is thankfully free of "What the's" occasional storytelling mishaps. On the other hand, Powers' near-insistent assertions, particularly in the film's narrated opening, about the way "One" was born in an ironic fog of idealism, inexperience and slight giddiness might strike some, at first blush, as bordering on hard-sell charm.

Movie review 3.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"One: The Movie," with Robert Thurman, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Deepak Chopra, Thomas Keating, Ram Dass, Mantak Chia, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Thich Nhat Hahn. Written and directed by Ward M. Powers. 79 minutes. Not rated; suitable for older school-age children and up. Varsity. Powers will speak at tonight's opening.

But it takes a full viewing to understand how the background story of "One's" creation — how Powers awoke in 2002 with an impulse to direct a movie that might help unite a divided world, despite having no experience — helps make the film's profound content accessible to all. If Powers and his skeleton crew can lurch toward wisdom then, "One" subtly conveys, anyone can.

Of course, the rest of us would have to be prepared to spend a couple of years, as "One's" makers did, gaining an audience with the likes of Buddhist scholar (and Uma's dad) Robert Thurman — whose wordless response to one query becomes an important, oft-visited refrain — or Barbara Marx Hubbard, co-founder of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution.

Both Thurman and Hubbard make invaluable contributions to the film, though we might not see them as much as we'd like. Time is tight with "One's" large crowd of interview subjects, including Ram Dass, author of the best-seller "Be Here Now"; Taoist master Mantak Chia; and Thomas Keating, a leader in the contemplative Christian movement.

Powers asks each about our fundamental purpose in life, the existence of God and how to achieve a sense of oneness. Interviews are broken, sometimes frustratingly, into small parts, then strategically organized to serve a step-by-step rise to a substantive and transcendent definition of oneness as the sum of diversity.

Much of what is said is provocative and occasionally dazzling, such as Sufi sheikh Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee's description of the divine at our fingertips. ("God is in the interconnection between each person I meet.") A statement by Keating toward the film's end, about understanding our real nature, surely will bring tears to the eyes of many.

"One's" lack of technical polish — the absence of PBS gloss — proves an asset, though Powers also includes a running story about a seeker's quest for enlightenment that demonstrates he's learned a thing or two about filmmaking. Still, "One" looks like a labor of love and is all the more stirring for it.

Tom Keogh:

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