Our Idiot Brother (2011)

Published: Mar 20, 2012 |Updated: Mar 10, 2023


“Our Idiot Brother” is a simple, light story that follows the life of the main character Ned as he enters back into the lives of his three sisters, shakes them up completely, and strolls back out grinning almost all the while. It is a feel good story with a lovely ending and a pretty straight forward set of lessons. For me there it is also a great and deep example of one of the stages of the Authentic Man Program (AMP) holarchy – appreciation.

Genre Comedy
Production year 2011
Director Jess Paretz
Male actors Paul Rudd

The Tao of Ned, Our Idiot Brother

Ned, idiot or conscious choice?

The story starts off with the main character Ned being suckered in to selling marijuana to a police officer whilst he is still in uniform. Ned is arrested and goes to jail. When he is finally released his life has been turned upside down, his girlfriend has found someone new without telling him and refuses to give Ned back his dog. He has lost his job and his house and with nowhere else to go begins the journey through his family from one sister’s life to another.

As the movie title implies, Ned is an idiot… or at least most people around him think so. When Ned meets his parole officer for the first time the officer speaks very slowly assuming Ned must be a retard to have sold weed to an in uniform police officer.

For me as a viewer watching and gaining slight glimpses deeper into Ned’s character I choose to view him more so as a character that has actually made a conscious choice to live his life a certain way that serves him positively, rather than as an idiot. There is a scene where Ned is talking to another character and he reveals an insight into his deeper thinking.

Ned says “I live my life a certain way, I like to think that if you put your trust out there, if you really give people the benefit of the doubt, see their best intentions they are going to want to live up to it”. He goes on to say that it doesn’t always work out for the best yet he has decided he prefers to live this way. He is as he is despite what society is saying he must be.

In some ways I liken Ned’s character to that of Winnie the Pooh. There is a great book called “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff where Winnie is used as an example of the living Tao in practice.

“While Eeyore frets… and Piglet hesitates… and Rabbit calculates… and Owl pontificates… Pooh just is”.

To me, Ned is similar and there are a set of characteristics that define his character in this manner.

The openness of trusting

As in the quote before, Ned trusts. He trusts everyone and when that trust fails he simply accepts it and carries on. There is a scene that shows this characteristic deeply when Ned is on a train counting some money with everyone looking at him strangely. He spills his coffee and asks the guy next to him to hold on to his money while he cleans it up. Everyone in the train by this point is exchanging glances looking as if they are questioning “who the hell is this guy?”

After cleaning up his coffee spill Ned takes his money back and thanks the guy who held it. I view this trust as an opening, it allows for Ned’s life and experience with others to open in interesting and mostly beautiful ways. He is easy to get along with because he sees the best in everyone.

From trust to appreciation

The AMP holarchy to me is a very powerful tool for viewing masculinity. It follows and includes, by being a holarchy, a progression from Presence into Appreciation into Integrity which ultimately leads into Wholeness and Play.

The story of Ned to me is a powerful example of Appreciation. In AMP speak we may say “being a YES to what is”. Whatever unfolds in Ned’s life, whether it is a positive experience or a negative one, to me he seems to be a yes to it every time.

He is naturally curious about others, a trait of appreciation, and is willing to go with the flow of life wherever it may take him. This deep sense of appreciation leaves those around him with the impression of a seemingly simple or naive individual yet there are scenes that show, to me, that in actual fact Ned is simple, yes… simply enjoying life.

It seems that through the eyes of Ned life is a lovely, soft and interesting thing to engage and smile with. His attitude shows up with his interactions with others, in particular a character called Tatiana which to me is the most radiant woman of the movie, and the way others generally respond to him in a positive light… and if they don’t, well Ned shrugs it off and continues smiling.


Ned is honest, directly and straight forwardly honest. It is this particular characteristic that makes the movie, which enables him to shake up the lives of his sisters, and unfortunately get himself arrested… the second time.

Ned’s honesty is an admirable feature in a world where honesty is not always a given. As mentioned above he speaks his mind and he trusts that others will do what is right with his own honesty. Generally he is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy so there isn’t too much in the way of ‘brutal honesty’ however it does cause some discomfort in those around him.

There is a really lovely scene where Ned somehow winds up in a threesome with a couple and then… well I’ll leave it for you to watch. What makes this scene beautiful is Ned’s honesty coupled with his appreciation and trust.

Honesty is deeper than simply telling the truth. As is outlined in the book “Radical Honesty” by Brad Blanton, honesty is also about speaking those things we generally would tend to withhold for fear of hurting, upsetting or making another person angry.

Whenever we withhold our thoughts and feelings from another, when they directly involve them, we are essentially lying and the consequences are always increased levels of stress or discomfort at some point in the future.

This is made apparent by the lives of Ned’s sisters which can be contrasted to the effortless flow in Ned’s life who is generally honest and does not actively engage in withholding.

From appreciation into integrity

One of the features of the AMP holarchy is that grounding in one layer causes a natural arising into the next. If we are deeply grounded in presence, which means anchoring our awareness in our physical body, it will cause a natural rise up into appreciation for what is occurring moment by moment. Same can be said for appreciation, when one is really enjoying the moment and the way it naturally arises then the trait of integrity will bubble up out of this appreciation.

The more we can enjoy the moment the more likely we are to feel safe in speaking our truths because we are able to be with and accept whatever occurs and there is no fear of the repercussions of being honest and in line with our values. Whatever happens we are able to appreciate and enjoy it!

This is touched on with the honesty of Ned in the previous segment and to me is expanded in a single small scene of the film. There is a scene where Ned’s sister asks him to make a small white lie for her, as her career is almost on the line.

Ned knows his sister needs this, his sister has helped him out with money and a place to stay… in a sense he ‘owes’ her and this is what she is playing on… and in the moment Ned stays true to his integrity. He does not lie, he speaks the honest truth as he always does.

Showing up

Another one of the beautiful features of the character of Ned is that he truly ‘shows up’.

Showing up, to me, means actually being there with another human being and focusing on them and the connection together rather than all this other external stuff going on. An example may be going to a coffee shop and ordering a coffee. Our attention can be on the coffee we are ordering, or it can be on the person behind the counter serving us. A simple and truly present “hello, how is your day?” when we really mean it can be enough to make that persons day.

They may have been serving coffee all day and not had a single person connect with them. Michael Brown in his audio recordings and writings on www.thepresenceportal.com talks about this often.

In his book “The Presence Process” he describes that there is a paper thin veil between everyone, this is the ‘gap’ and it is where we put all the stuff of the world. The moment we truly connect with another we bridge this gap and take another step into unity consciousness.

Ned shows up and in every one of his interactions it is easy to see this genuinely engaged and interested expression on Ned’s face as he actually engages and connects with this person, whoever they are, in front of him and as he gives them all of his attention for those moments they are together.

If we ever really want to connect with other human beings then the first thing we need to do is truly show up and be with them, after we have shown up with ourselves first of course.

The opposite of this looks like, which is all too common these days, a bunch of friends sitting around a table while they are all playing on their smart phones or netbooks. Where are they? They certainly aren’t engaged with one another. I see this all the time these days… what kind of world are we stepping in to?

The catalyst

The most striking thing to me about this movie is that it isn’t really about Ned at all! He is of course the main character and except for one scene at the beginning introducing his sisters and one scene near the end when he is in jail, the movie revolves around him.

And yet, Ned is the only character that does not undergo any real challenge, self-reflection or growth. Ned is static and his character remains the same for the duration of the movie. Oh it could be argued that Ned losing his girlfriend, his dog, his job and his house is a challenge yet when watching the character of Ned there is no drama about it. He does not feel compelled to take any drastic action to change or alter his circumstances he seems to simply accept it as it comes and continue on.

To me this is an example of one who has deeply integrated a lot of their personal emotional inner discomfort and trauma. Ned seems to understand that life brings to him what is required and does not fight or struggle against any of it. It is a beautiful example of what it can look like to let go of resistance to the natural ebbs and flows of life.

His sisters, on the other hand, are not coming from an integrated state where they are able to accept life as it is. All three of Ned’s sisters experience a plunge into drama, discomfort and upheaval as Ned comes into their lives and shines a light on all their deceptions and dishonesty.

Ned is a catalyst for change. By bringing to light the places where they are being dishonest with themselves or others or engaging in some kind of self-deception, Ned shows it up with his unwavering honesty and trust, as they wheedle secrets out of him or tell him they have shared information with another that they truly have not.

Eventually they enter a reactive state of drama and as it dawns on them their first instinct is to enter the ‘victim’ mentality and blame everything on Ned for ruining their lives. This comes to head in a full family scene where they begin venting their frustrations and heaping their discomfort onto Ned, at which point he breaks in anger, real anger.

Everyone is shocked to view Ned in a state of complete rage… because for Ned he does everything with his full attention, and most of the time it is in a loving and easy-going manner so to see him shouting silences everyone. I think it is in this moment that Ned once again shines a mirror on their behavior; they see themselves in the way they are acting and are shocked into taking responsibility for their lives.

For anyone wishing to really grow in life and start experiencing the kind of joy, abundance and health that is our birthright the first step is always to take responsibility for our experience.

We create our experience, whatever that experience is… the only difference is whether we are creating it unconsciously or consciously. While we still approach the world through reactive drama and blaming others or outside circumstances for our experience we are engaged in life as a victim.

The opposite of that is constantly trying to manipulate and control life by putting everyone else around us down and engaging life as a victor. Both pathways are ones of almost endless suffering maybe interspersed with brief moments of happiness, and as they say: “happiness is fleeting”.

Engaging our own lives through being responsible for whatever occurs, even when what is occurring is not what we wanted, is the first step on what I think is an endless journey. It is both frightening and humbling to admit that we created whatever it is we are experiencing and… would we really want it any other way?

This is what the character of Ned most brings to the movie as his sisters are forced to take responsibility for their own actions, cause Ned sure as hell isn’t going to take responsibility for them!

My own take

I may be reading too much into this simple, feel-good movie and taking its lessons beyond what was ever intended and I am ok with that. To me this movie came at an appropriate time in my life, when I needed a reminder of the simple beauty in ‘going with the flow’. Ned’s character is one that I seek to bring into my own life, with my own particular flavor… that of simply enjoying everyone and everything around me.

Approaching life with a grin on my face and a willingness to accept whatever it is that might occur. Definitely as I bring more of this into my own life, the results I find are an increase in ease and effortlessness with what occurs, a deepening of connection with the people I find in my life, more laughter, more smiles and generally… more appreciation!

In contrast the moments where this wavers, where I enter judgement or begin to not appreciate what is happening around me are the moments I feel the most lonely, alienated and isolated. In it’s extreme for me it can spiral downwards into depression.

I felt good watching Ned in his interactions and I enjoyed seeing lessons within the movie that I am currently integrating into my own life. I hope you enjoy the movie also and I would love to hear what you think!

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