REVIEW: Wild Wild Country

by Yorgos Paschos

Emile Durkheim once wrote that society equals God, which pretty much sums up “Wild Wild Country”, an original Netflix documentary series that drags up one of the darkest moments in American history.

Directed by Chapman and Maclain Way, it is divided in six captivating episodes that investigate the case of new age cult Rajneeshism, whose spiritual leader was none other than Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho. Using the early years as a springboard, we quickly learn that Bhagwan garnered influence for his criticism on socialism, as well as other popular, established religions of his time. He promised his followers an earthly utopia, where people from every corner of the earth would live together in a commune, far away from the oppressive constraints of modern society. Thousands of people congregated in Pune, India, in order to see this new leader in person, whose fame pretty soon rivalled a rock star’s, not to mention his cult was turning into something of a sex cult. 

According to Bhagwan, freeing the physical body through a process of revolutionising the self and human desire was the only way forward. He advocated a more open attitude towards human sexuality, which was supposedly achieved by liberating the senses and entering an ecstatic state. His message of sexual, emotional, spiritual and institutional liberation tapped into the ’70s Zeitgeist, attracting people from all walks of life who were looking for an alternative lifestyle. 

The documentary quickly focuses on Osho’s right-hand woman, Ma Anand Sheela, an extremely cunning disciple who was willing to do anything to please her leader and gain his favor. As the cult grew more and more influential, Sheela travelled to the US hoping to find a place for them to settle so Bhagmwan’s vision of a utopian community would finally take shape. They eventually acquired a vast abandoned ranch in Oregon, which quickly grew into a city and became the centre of operations of the Rajneeshi cult. This giant social experiment attracted thousands of people who wanted to escape the world as they knew it and practice meditation, free love and spiritual freedom, the ultimate self realisation.

But things are rarely what they seem. Osho’s idealised vision concealed an all-powerful machine that subdued and preyed on people, bleeding them for every penny they had. Conspiracies, betrayals, murder attempts, drugs and illegal gun possession where only a few of the problem that ushered the cult into a tumultuous period that affected the wider Oregon area and, ultimately, the entire country,

The series revives a forgotten yet seminal moment in American religious history, which ebbed and flowed but never really went away. The directors managed to maintain a neutral attitude towards their main characters, neither commending nor condemning their actions, while posing important questions about morality, abuse of power, minorities and the difference between a cult and a religion. The takeaway is really up to you. Either way, “Wild Wild Country” is definitely worth 6.5hrs of your time, reviving the freedom of the 70s but not without stressing the dangers of surrendering yourself to a divine kingdom.

 

 



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