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The Secret of Dr. Grinberg
film review

Dec. 25, 2022

by Jeffrey R. Sipe

The Secret of Dr. Grinberg
Spanish with English subtitles
Thursday, December 29, 5pm

In 1994, Jakobo Grinberg, the Mexican neurophysiologist and psychologist, disappeared without a trace. Director Ida Cuellar's first feature length documentary, The Secret of Dr. Grinberg, explores a truly fascinating life, but like all attempts before, it fails to solve the mystery of Grinberg's disappearance more than 30 years ago. The questions it raises, however, are enough to keep an audience enthralled.

The Secret of Dr. Grinberg is as good as any thriller, with the unexplained vanishing, quirky characters on the periphery of the story and a mysterious unidentified blonde woman who appears to have been a part of his life a short time before his disappearance. She, however, has never been identified. Even Carlos Castaneda, author of The Teachings of Don Juan and trained, he said, to be a shaman, comes under suspicion. Grinberg's wife has a finger pointed at her, as well, but the police have their hands tied in any investigation of his disappearance. There is no evidence – like a body – to justify a murder investigation. And the disappearance of an adult with no signs of foul play is no fodder for police intervention. Finally, could the CIA have been involved, hoping to implement what the film implies could have been a breakthrough in scientific proof of telepathy?

"We know a lot," the chief investigator tells the camera at one point. "But there is nothing we can act on."

Grinberg began his career as a psychologist in Mexico and went to New York where he fell into the counterculture of the time. He segued to the study of human consciousness, eventually proposing a theory he called "syntergy" that posited that we live in a continuous space of energy that the common human being can only perceive a part of. Obviously, he was unable to prove that, but he continued to employ the scientific method to study brain activity, witchcraft, shamanism, telepathy, and meditation, sometimes running afoul of other researchers who thought he was making jumps in logic that were not warranted.

The film is a well-crafted mystery, a true joy for a documentary. But there are some gaps in logic. Grinberg was sold on the idea that the suppleness of some children's minds allows them to experience what would appear to be supernatural abilities. He reportedly showed children the front cover of a book and the children proceeded to read what was on the back cover. "I saw this with my own eyes," says a journalist who claims to have been present during the experiment. But who were these children? Where are they now? How is it that such an amazing phenomenon is not common knowledge? It sounds a lot like some of the duplicitous behavior often attributed to shamans.

While Grinberg began his career within acceptable parameters of the study of consciousness, he went further and further towards the fringe. Some of his texts quoted in the film call to mind L. Ron Hubbard as Grinberg strives to create a mythology of the mind and the cosmos. A beautifully written text, however, is no proof of anything.

So, what happened to Dr. Grinberg? Someone knows, but they're not telling. The Secret of Dr. Grinberg answers very few questions, but asks enough to keep viewers thinking long after the closing credits.


Compartimento Cinematográfico is at Mezcal Art
next to Immigration on Calzada de la estación.
Admission is free.

See more from
Compartimento Cinematográfico
on Lokkal's full
movie schedule


Jeffrey R. Sipe is a writer/journalist, who, no matter how hard he writes, having grown up in Speedway, Indiana, still can’t get the sounds of race cars rounding Turn 4 out of his head. He has written about the film industry for Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Sight and Sound, The Financial Times and other publications. He also once worked as the “boom guy” on a film that nobody saw, but he challenges everyone to see just how long they can hold a metal tube with a microphone attached over their heads.


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