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Following Sean

The More Things Change, the More We’re Not the Same

Filmmaker Ralph Arlyck traveled west to the Haight Ashbury district during the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Ralph ended up in an apartment in which a top floor commune welcomed drifters, artists, and a myriad of lost souls. The couple who ran this commune had a young son, 4-year old Sean.

Ralph interviewed the precocious Sean on camera and in the process created a powerful fifteen-minute documentary. Both would eventually go their separate ways, but 30 years later Ralph began to wonder what ever happened to Sean. Thus, the idea for Following Sean was spawned.

The premise of Following Sean is more than intriguing. Most of us have people in our lives that were profoundly affecting and yet for a variety of reasons eventually disappeared from our lives. Ralph Arlyck's curiosity for what became of this young hippie child drives his quest and while Following Sean is primarily about what happened to Sean it is also a journey in which Ralph examines who he has become.

We first see Sean at the tender age of four as he cavalierly discusses smoking pot and the speed freaks who hang out upstairs. While Sean is intelligent and eloquent, one can't help but wonder the path he's heading down. Arlyck adroitly breasts his cards as he reconnects with Sean's parents (now divorced) and Sean's siblings and yet we still don't know what's become of Sean.

At long last, we see the man Sean has become and he is in many ways as fascinating as he was when he was four. Now an adult, Sean is an electrician and on the verge of entering into a marriage with a Russian woman. Sean's intelligence led him to a bachelor's at UC Berkeley and when we are first re-acquainted with him he's contemplating law school.

Arlyck continues to follow Sean after his marriage and the birth of his first child. Far from being a free loving, free wheeling hippie like his parents, Sean exhibits a diligent work ethic and a tacit acceptance of most societal conventions and obligations. He's embraced the values of his more conventional grandparents rather than the more ethereal values of his biological parents.

On a micro-level, Following Sean could merely be viewed as an examination of the trajectory of one love child's development in the wake of the boundary challenging 1960s, but what Arlyck has assembled resonates much deeper than this. Sean and Ralph were both profoundly affected by their experiences growing up in the middle of one of the most chaotic periods of U.S. history and yet how significant really was it?

Thirty years later, Sean is not depraved or chemically dependent despite his early affinity for marijuana. Likewise, one wonders if this divisive period was really as profoundly influential or affecting as was originally thought. Where there were once protests, there is now a Gap peddling khakis and boutiques carrying clothing that few can afford. It would appear the counterculture has been commodified in many respects.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars