William Kurelek’s The Maze

William Kurelek (1927-1977) is one of Canada’s most celebrated artists, and his paintings hang in prestigious museums all over the world. Nick Young and Zack Young’s William Kurelek’s The Maze is a beautiful film about this talented artist, profound thinker, and saintly, sweet soul, who as a young man became disconnected from himself and others, displayed frightening behaviors, and was hospitalized in London, diagnosed as schizophrenic.

William Kurelek’s The Maze is a powerfully transformative film, mainly because its subject William Kurelek is astoundingly articulate—visually, verbally, emotionally, and spiritually—about a dimension of our humanity that most of us find difficult to articulate and understand. I sense that the filmmakers recognized their great luck in having such an amazing subject, and they pushed their own art to do justice to Kurelek and his spiritual transformation.

Kurelek came to believe that he was never “mentally ill” but had experienced a spiritual crisis. The film follows Kurelek through his crisis, which led to the painting of his brilliant work “The Maze” at the Maudsley Psychiatric hospital in London. The film is invaluable in providing us with Kurelek’s insightful reflections on what most psychiatrists call schizophrenia but what others—who reject labeling it as an illness—call a “lived experience with altered states of consciousness.”

Kurelek was an extremely gentle and extremely honest man, and the Young brothers’ film is extremely gentle and honest in revealing not only him, but his parents and familial relationships, and the mental health professionals who worked with him. This gentle honesty gives William Kurelek’s The Maze a non-polemical stance—a rare quality in films about this kind of subject matter, where we are routinely manipulated to buy this or that dogma. The Young brothers’ film, instead of manipulating us, opens our hearts to an aspect of our humanity that is often difficult for many of us to be receptive to—and in so doing, open us up to parts of ourselves that become less frightening to see.

The Young brothers tell me that they are they are trying to raise money to finish and release William Kurelek’s The Maze, which their father started over 40 years ago. Their father is the award-winning filmmaker Robert M. Young (Nothing But a ManAlambrista!Dominick and Eugene), who began this film because he believed that Kurelek’s revelations in both his art and in his person were of great importance—a belief that will be difficult to reject after seeing this film. The Young brother’s goal is to complete the final stages of this film, which includes finishing a new bonus film. Toward this end, they are utilizing the crowd-funding Kickstarter campaign to raise funds.