This is a crazy story about a cult, but not necessarily the kind of cult you might expect (i.e. not a death cult). Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is how much film there is of the cult. But the film is problematic; to paraphrase one critic, it’s incredible that at over six hours long it still leaves you with so many questions.
First off, what a crazy story. I can’t believe I’ve never heard anything about this, given that I was alive during this whole thing. (I can’t believe my parents or nobody else their age have ever mentioned it to me.) At least going by the media coverage in this documentary, so many people were following the story, it’s amazing that I had never heard about it.
The film does an admirable job of showing both sides of situation. On the one hand, you hear many times over how much of an affect the cult leader had on his followers and how much some of them still care about him. I may not agree with these people’s views of the universe or their ideas about how to live, but I can’t deny that at least some of them seem to have been genuinely happy. (Provided those people are innocent, it’s hard to begrudge them.) The film also does a good job of showing the bigotry of the locals and the self-righteousness and zealotry of some of members of the law enforcement agencies who got involved.
On the other hand, the film does a good job of showing how shocking and awful it would be for a giant cult to just move in next to a tiny town (really a village or a hamlet). The locals may be bigots, but one wonders what the cult members were thinking.
The problem with the film is all the loose ends, specifically around the legal and financial issues (such as fraud). Because the film relies so much on film and TV from the time, and the interviews with four members, as well as locals, there isn’t really someone to explain the intricacies of the financial scams and enough of the legal issues. In fact, there are enough loose ends that it makes me feel like I need to read a book. That’s not supposed to happen when you devote six+ hours to a subject.