I’ve maintained a wary interest in the Church of Scientology since reading L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman? (co-written by Hubbard’s estranged son Ronald DeWolf, and ,sadly, now out of print) as a teenager. I’m not a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work, but I’m still thinking about seeing his new film The Master, a movie about a man who falls under the sway of a Hubbard-like cult leader.
WIRED’s Hugh Hart has reviewed the film, praising it as an elegant dissection of “cult psychosis”:
The Master casts its own weird, R-rated spell not because it yields shocking revelations or clever plot twists. We never learn why Freddie’s such a high-strung mess, though his World War II combat experience would seem a likely source of trauma. Nor do we find out where Dodd — a character inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard — comes from or how he acquired his gift for wrapping people around his stubby fingers. There’s not much in the way of catharsis, either, since everybody’s pretty much the same at the end of the tale as they were at the beginning.
Instead, The Master resonates because its peculiar particulars illustrate why people like Dodd continue to proliferate with near-tragic frequency. Consider such characters as the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who picked spouses for his followers; California Coptic priest Zakaria Botros Henein, whose devotees made the Innocence of Muslims video; and positive-thinking guru James Arthur Ray, whose eager-to-please acolytes sat in a sweat lodge until they died.
Factor in Vanity Fair magazine’s recent report about Church of Scientology matchmaking practices for Tom Cruise (denied by the organization), and it seems clear that the top-down command structure depicted in The Master remains in full force six decades on.
I’m wondering if any of Disinfo’s readers have seen the film, and what their thoughts may be. For those of you who haven’t seen it, do you plan on doing so?