Movie Summary / Synopsis

The environmental movement stands on the shoulders of a few great conservationists, especially John Muir.  Also known as “John of the Mountains”, Muir was a naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, founder of the Sierra Club, mountaineer and dedicated advocate for the vital preservation of our natural resources and the wild places in the United States. Through his dedicated activism, this wilderness champion was a staunch pioneer. Muir’s gallant spirit and his important legacy live on in our national parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, hiking trails and national forests.


Muir, an ecological prophet and Christian mystic, has profoundly shaped the ways in which we understand and envision our relationship with the natural world, and his work has become a personal guide into the natural world for countless individuals. In “The Unruly Mystic: John Muir” an award-winning movie director and producer, Michael M. Conti, illustrates how he has been personally influenced by Muir’s writings.


Muir valued nature for its spiritual and transcendental qualities, referring to wild nature as places for rest, inspiration, and prayer, and he encouraged everyone to experience nature for its spiritual nourishment. The movie is a personal and an inspirational journey about how the filmmaker and others reaffirms their appreciation of nature through the revolutionary writings of John Muir, and by spending time in nature as Muir advocated.

Filmmaker across from Half Dome, Yosemite National Park.

What is this emotional connection to nature we can all share? Each of us are on our own personal yet universal journey in how we connect with nature. We explore that question as the film leads the viewer through a fascinating timeline of John Muir’s life, from his humble beginnings as a child in Scotland. Throughout these adventures we meet people who share their own perspectives on nature and of John Muir, how he inspired them, and what that inspiration has done for them in their own lives. All of which comes back to our connection to nature and how that can lead to an awakening of spirit such as experienced by John Muir, by the filmmaker.

The John Muir movie opens on the Americas Continental Divide in Costa Rica, where the filmmaker hikes up a lush and misty jungle trail, narrating how nature impacts him, and he invites the movie audience to learn more about the subject of the film, John Muir. Moving on to Yosemite National Park, as the former President Obama shares his deeply felt experiences there, we hear from others, young and old, enjoying their time in nature, and what it means to them. The filmmaker relates the story of his own nature-inspired ritual performed in the Colorado wilderness, a spiritual emergence which would profoundly shape him into the dedicated person he is today.As this inspirational and provocative film moves toward its conclusion, the differing perspectives merge into one story: that we are all connected and connected to nature itself.

Lake Kitlop, Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. Photo by Greg Shea

The film concludes with a trip to a sacred lake deep in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia where a First Nations elder reminds us of what all is at stake if we lose that precious connection that John Muir wrote about.