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Fairway to Heaven

The bestselling genre of golf and spirtuality
is heading to Hollywood

When the website went up last September, it was a first, both for Hollywood and for Esalen cofounder and author Michael Murphy. It was a first for Hollywood because never before had a director and a producer used the internet to ask fans to assist them in casting one of the lead roles of a major Hollywood production—in this case the role of the mysterious golf teacher, Shivas Irons, a character in Murphy's spiritual classic, Golf in the Kingdom. And it was a first for Murphy, because it signaled that Golf in the Kingdom, long coveted in Hollywood for its cinematic potential, was finally going to be green-lighted—thirty-one years after he first published the book. Indeed, Murphy has teamed up with director Susan Streitfeld and producer Mindy Affrime, and though nothing is ever quite certain in the complex world of making movies, it appears that we may finally get to see this much-loved story on the screen. Last winter, WIE managed to get an early update on the status of this new production from the producer and director duo, who are embracing the formidable creative challenge of bringing Aurobindo, enlightenment, and integral ideas to a medium more accustomed to surf, sex, and Schwarzenegger.

What is Enlightenment: How long have you been working on this project?

Mindy Affrime: Michael Murphy and I have been conspiring to make Golf in the Kingdom for almost thirteen years. A year and a half ago, we got the film rights back from a Hollywood studio, and we have been working with Susan on a script. We just finished a wonderful draft.

WIE: What makes this script work?

Affirme: Michael feels like this script is the closest ever to being really true to his vision of the book.

Susan Streitfeld: What we did in the adaptation was to strip the story down to its essential core, paring it down to a simple tale of the search, of a boy and his teacher. Hollywood likes to embellish. They like to tell you what you're watching and how you're supposed to feel about it. We are trying to keep it very, very simple and open.

WIE: Is it hard that the film is explicitly spiritual in nature—is that a hard sell?

Affrime: Well, in some ways, yes. Really, Golf in the Kingdom is a very simple tale about a young man who has been studying philosophy at Stanford in 1956 and who decides he has to go to India to gain enlightenment. At the very beginning of his journey, in the London airport, his flight to Bombay is delayed. So he ventures off to Scotland to play one last round of golf, his passion. There he meets Shivas Irons, a mysterious golf pro who teaches him all about life—on and off the golf course—in twenty-four hours. There is no sex, no violence, no sentimental ending. Golf in the Kingdom is a universal tale about a young man looking for transformation and finding it where he never thought he would.

WIE: What qualities are you looking for in casting Shivas Irons, the teacher that Michael, the main character, meets?

Streitfeld: Shivas Irons is a trickster, a Hermes character. Hermes was known as the God of the Hinge, and Shivas is like that. He sits at the threshold, opening and closing doors, pushing and pulling at Michael's mind, trying to get him to go beyond himself. Shivas is the best part of all of us, but the part we have such a hard time actually living out of. He's the one who embodies original authenticity. Both Michael and Shivas are fantastic roles. Not only is the movie about the archetypal search, but it is also a love story. It is about finding a teacher, and about falling in love. These two see in each other a potential, something essential, the ability to connect and carve out this fantastic relationship for twenty-four hours, a relationship that will have resonance for both of them for the rest of their lives.

WIE: If you capture that relationship on film, I think it will be a real accomplishment.

Affrime: We're going to give it our best shot. Sorry, golf joke! But seriously, movies are difficult, and it's not worth making one unless it's a subject you really care about.


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This article is from
Our Collective Intelligence Issue


May–July 2004