Saturday, August 18, 2012

Paul Thomas Anderson Takes on The Church of Scientology in "The Master"



I have mixed feelings about Paul Thomas Anderson, mainly due to the fact that There Will Be Blood was THE WORST DATE MOVIE EVER (Okay, yes, the film's title should have clued me in on that possibility). But I am excited about his upcoming film The Master, which is quite clearly based on the bewildering saga of L. Ron Hubbard and his Church of Scientology. Frankly I'm surprised Anderson was able to get this film financed, considering the disproportionately large percentage of Scientologists within the Hollywood community. He must be a very resourceful and cunning fellow indeed. The casting is brilliant; I can think of no actor better suited to the role of the outsized Hubbard (named Lancaster Dodd in the film) than Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I was one of the lucky few who managed to find and read a copy of Bare-Faced Messiah, Russell Miller's scathing biography of Hubbard, before the Church of Scientology essentially litigated the book out of print in the US. Filled with tales of black magic, free love, quackery, hypnotism, a Watergate-style break-in, and the, uh, Sea Org, it puts most sci-fi/fantasy novels to shame. Additionally, the story of how the Scientologists incessantly hounded and intimidated Mr. Miller in an attempt to halt the book's publication would make for a great movie in itself.

Thankfully, Miller has gotten the last laugh. Scientology's lawyers may be capable of putting publishers out of business, but so far they have proven unable to squelch the Internet. While US publishers have refused to reprint the book for fear of the inevitable avalanche of spurious lawsuits that would result, curious souls may now read the book online, for free. Needless to say, I recommend Bare-Faced Messiah unreservedly. It is a triumph of investigative journalism.

Of course, it remains to be seen how deeply Anderson's film will delve into the whole tawdry tale of L. Ron Hubbard's life, but at the very least The Master promises to be an entertaining couple of hours at the movies blissfully unsanctioned  by Xenu. Don't get me wrong: I'm all for religious freedom; in the grand scheme of things the cosmology of Scientology is not significantly weirder than what you might find in some other belief systems. But what I can't get behind is this particular organization's history of intimidating ex-members and journalists, and its demands that the current faithful pay out the nose for each successive level of spiritual attainment. That is not how a legitimate religion operates.