‘Wild Wild Country’ brings a chaotic cult to your couch

Cults are, by definition, complete insanity. The pull and control that a central figure of a cult leader holds is mind-boggling. The power held by that central person is incomprehensible in modern times. Any recent fictionalized effort to bring the power of these figures and those who followed them to life, like the recent “American Horror Story: Cult,” seems to fall short of the sway the leaders actually had. And who can blame the actors and actresses in these fictionalized efforts? They can only go so far with their emotions. How can they possibly display wanting to die for their living Gods, like the 913 victims of Jim Jones at Jonestown?

Netflix showed last year that they aren’t afraid to tackle challenging moralist issues with the fantastic serial killer series “Mindhunter,” and they’ve done it again. They pulled an absolute ace card out of their hand with the new documentary series “Wild Wild Country.”

The sheer amount of archival and newsreel footage Netflix pulled for this series is something to behold and something you need to see to believe. “Wild Wild Country” is a six-part documentation of how the cult of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (sensibly donned “The Rajneesh Movement”) bought over 60,000 acres of land in the middle of nowhere, Oregon (not too far from Bend), and brought chaos to all that stood in its way.

It’s a superb precursor to the division we see today in the political sphere. The central quarrel in the series comes down to an old-versus-new battle between the commune and the tiny town of Antelope, located about 19 miles from the commune.  I don’t want to get too far into the storyline of the show, because there are enormous spoilers. It’s weird to call them spoilers at all, since it all actually happened, but if you don’t know about the background of this series, go in blind. You won’t be disappointed.

The aspect that truly sets “Wild Wild Country” apart from the usual docuseries is that it leaves no stone unturned.  I have too often watched biased documentaries with boring talking heads droning on about statistics, but not here. Rather, real members of Rajneesh’s cult provide first-hand experiences to go along with the simply breathtaking footage.

Rajneesh’s right-hand woman Ma Anand Sheela is perhaps the most captivating voice of them all, talking with the same veracity and pomp that she brought nearly 40 years ago. Her peak as the cult’s spokesperson arguably came in a 1985 “60 Minutes” interview where she responded to Antelope’s complaints with “tough titties.” Unfortunately, Rajneesh (dubbed Osho by many of his followers) can’t pitch in his own story, having passed away in 1991. It’s not needed, though. All the evidence is there.

Do not miss this series. In a time where discord seems to sprout up all around us, it’s interesting to look back on one of the craziest conflicts of the modern era.

4.5/5


Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.cohn@uconn.edu.