You may have noticed The Secret: Dare to Dream in the UK top ten on Netflix as 2020 draws to a close. Perhaps you’ve even considered watching it: desperate times, plus a 6.4 on IMdB, and it does have that nice Katie Holmes in it… Don’t we all want to dream of a nice romance somewhere near New Orleans with – well, with that guy perhaps best-known for playing one of Patrick Bateman’s appalling colleagues in American Psycho – but, let’s just say with some charming stranger who smiles a lot and makes mysterious claims about how the universe wants you to be happy. That sounds nice, right?
The problem with The Secret: Dare to Dream is that in addition to being formulaic and bland, with unsympathetic and unconvincing characters spouting laughably on-the nose dialogue and made-up Einstein quotes, it’s a spin-off movie of The Secret. (Yes, the clue was in the title.)
The Secret is a best-selling book by Rhonda Byrne, based on the concept of the Law of Attraction; that what you think will manifest itself in your life. According to The Secret, if you want something, you ask for it, you believe it and broadcast it to the universe, and you – if you are ready to receive it – will get what you want.
The principle, as Byrne herself admits, is not new. The concept appears everywhere from one of the oldest texts around – “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matthew 21:22) – through to adherents of New Thought groups, who tend to emphasize the role of belief and thoughts in everything from wealth and success to physical illness.
The mechanism by which they claim this actually occurs is rather hazy, but to back up the claim that thought can influence matter, proponents point to experiments that they say have proven water molecules are affected by human thoughts. It will not surprise you to know that such experiments are not widely accepted in the wider science community, were not published in mainstream scientific journals, and have not been replicated by non-believing (and therefore less biased) scientists.
This all might sound far-fetched, and of course it is, but 30 million people worldwide have bought the book and all manner of celebrities and motivational speakers believe in the power of this not-so-secret method.
This is having practical implications in our communities. Since The Secret was published, attendance at New Thought churches is up, and there are around 4,000 Law of Attraction groups worldwide on Meetup.com.
Still, what’s the harm? If people want to believe that good things will come to them, and then perhaps they work hard at getting those things, that’s a good thing, right?
I’d argue these ideas can have negative implications. For one, The Secret – and indeed this movie – implies that you don’t necessarily need to work hard to accomplish the things you want; they will happen simply because of your belief, with cheques arriving unexpectedly in the post, or takeaway pizza arriving to feed a hungry family, just because you properly visualised and believed they would.
The flipside of this is that The Secret isn’t therefore only about attracting the positive things. The principle also espouses the idea that disease, death and other bad things also happen because of the way you think.
Starving to death in a famine? All those negative thoughts you’re having from hunger will only attract more famine. Being murdered in a genocide? Your fault.
I wish I was making this up, but when Bob Proctor, one of the featured thinkers from Byrne’s book, was asked in an interview on ABC Nightline whether children in Darfur had attracted the starvation to themselves, he answered: “I think the country probably has.”
The Law of Attraction teaches that those who have died in the most appalling ways, including natural disasters and wars, were having thoughts that “matched the frequency of the event”, and that their thoughts led to them being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, which seems like a mild way of describing being murdered by a spree killer or terrorists or a genocidal war machine. The concept is truly abhorrent, and such thinking is only a hop and a skip away from taking a criminally laissez faire approach to solving the real problems that exist in the world.
On a more personal level, The Secret teaches that “Illness cannot exist in a body that has harmonious thoughts.” This victim-blaming nonsense has a very real harm – people who believe in the Law of Attraction while suffering from terminal cancer may also believe that their inability to cure themselves is, quite literally, their fault. I can think of very few more disgusting philosophies.
So it is a relief that The Secret: Dare to Dream is such a lousy film, with only a brief and unintentionally hilarious confrontation at a teenager’s birthday party in its favour. Although it has hovered for a short while in the UK Netflix top ten, its limp plot, flaccid ending and inability to stick even to its own rules seems unlikely to make many new converts.