In Jane Campion's imaginative view of the world, erotic energy fuels passion, spirituality, the quest for meaning, and the quality of our compassion. To make the most of this movie, keep your senses on alert. Put aside reason and impatience. Go with the flow of your emotions, including those you usually keep on a tight leash.
Ruth (Kate Winslet in the most astonishing and wide-ranging performance of her illustrious career) is an enthusiastic and impressionable young woman who joins a community in India centered around Baba, a guru. Her mother, Miriam (Julie Hamilton), immediately sets out from Australia to rescue her golden girl. When Miriam is overcome by an asthma attack just before meeting the guru, Ruth agrees to accompany her home. Once there, the young woman learns her parents and two brothers have hired PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel), an American deprogramming expert who has successfully treated 189 clients. When his partner, Carol (Pam Grier), is not on hand at the outset to assist him, this middle-ager finds himself a little uneasy in the presence of the fiercely defiant Ruth.
The two of them are locked up in a halfway hut for three days. PJ attempts to wean Ruth away from her infatuation with Baba, to burst the bubble of her irrationality, and to provoke her into an honest perception of her situation. In the midst of his deprogramming efforts, PJ allows himself to be seduced by the disoriented Ruth. She turns the tables on him revealing his sexual vulnerability as "a dirty old man." Dressed up as a woman, he pursues her into the desert and finds himself the target of her family's wrath. His helpless plea for Ruth to be kind eventually opens her heart. She realizes that they are soul mates who have struggled together in a dark night of the soul.
Jane Campion's Holy Smoke is a shattering and intense drama dealing with spirituality and sexual politics. Once they have blasted apart each other's proud egos, Ruth and PJ reach a point where all that divides them falls away, leaving only compassion. From the exotic opening scenes in India, where Neil Diamond's "Holly Holy" provides an impressive undertone, to the closing endnotes revealing Ruth and PJ's eventual fates, Holy Smoke is an erotic tour de force.