Scientology and The Master

Is The Master a "Scientology" movie? Oh, you bet. Don't let the denials from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams and even, to a certain extent, director Paul Thomas Anderson himself throw you off. As Anderson reveals in this interview with our Scott Foundas, he dug deep into Scientology's history to set the backdrop for his movie.

Anderson's script for The Master contains innumerable details about Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard—Hoffman's character Lancaster Dodd in the movie—but some of these details didn't make it to the screen. (Anderson told Foundas that he filmed many scenes that didn't make the final cut. Some of them will be available when the DVD version comes out.) But even with some of those details cut, The Master is still very much about Scientology's early years, and in particular, it explores three themes that spanned a period of 1951 to the mid 1970s in real life. (In the movie, everything takes place over a few months in 1950.)

1. Hubbard goes "whole track"

Courtesy Wikimedia

When L. Ron Hubbard introduced the idea of "auditing" (a form of counseling) with his 1950 book Dianetics, it experienced a brief fad as people across the country paired up to help each other remember what they had experienced in utero or during childbirth. It was Hubbard's contention that something your mother and father said during sex or pregnancy could somehow imprint itself on your mind and mess you up for life. If you could go back in time and recover those memories, you could disarm them and improve your mental faculties in the present. (This idea is clearly demonstrated in The Master as Joaquin Phoenix's character, Freddie Quell, tries to understand Dodd's book The Cause and watches prenatal counseling happening on Dodd's ship.) But re-experiencing one's birth wasn't enough for Hubbard, who then pushed back beyond conception with the notion of past lives—even claiming to remember his past billions and trillions of years down his "whole track" of existence. Not everyone who had originally supported Dianetics liked this new emphasis on past lives and space opera, and Hubbard was faced with the first of several splits in his movement—Dodd, in the film, is also trying to convince his followers to follow him down the "time hole."

2. A wealthy patron sours on LRH

In 1951, the early fad over Dianetics had faded, and Hubbard was going through a nasty public divorce while hiding out in Cuba, when a millionaire named Don Purcell offered him safe haven in Kansas. Before too long, however, that relationship had also soured, and Hubbard had to start over yet again, this time renaming his invention "Scientology" while he lived in Phoenix. (In the movie, Dodd's benefactor, a Park Avenue widow named Mildred Drummond, hosts a fundraiser and demonstration of Dodd's latest ideas, only to have it ruined by a persistent skeptic, and Dodd reacts in a way that shocks and repels Mrs. Drummond.) Throughout Scientology's history, it has attracted wealthy or famous supporters who later faded away or disavowed the church publicly.

3. The Sea Org and wedding bells

By 1967, Hubbard and his followers were so unwelcome in Britain and the U.S., he had assembled a small number of ships and then ran Scientology while sailing the Mediterranean and the Atlantic for the next eight years. His family was with him, and in 1971, he officiated at the marriage of his daughter Diana aboard his flagship, the Apollo. By then, the hardcore Scientologists who were sailing with him had been named the "Sea Org," and Hubbard was developing harsh forms of discipline for his troops. He also urged them never to defend the movement but always to attack. (In the film, Dodd sails from San Francisco to New York and along the way puts on the wedding of his daughter Elizabeth. Dodd relies on his wife, Peggy, for her steely nerve, just as Hubbard relied on his own third wife, Mary Sue. Sample line for Dodd in the script, which is delivered in the movie by Peggy, played by Amy Adams: "The only way to defend ourselves is attack.")

What you won't see: If you're looking for the kind of material that was in a famous 2005 episode of South Park, you're going to be disappointed. Xenu the galactic overlord and "body thetans" were invented by Hubbard in 1967, and Anderson makes no reference at all to these secret teachings. (In the script, there was the barest hint of it, but not in the film itself.) Instead, Anderson is more interested in Hubbard's earlier years and how a man with such outlandish ideas managed to charm people into becoming fanatical followers. At this, the movie succeeds fabulously.

Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of The Village Voice since March 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. For more than a year, he has been blogging more frequently about Scientology as it goes through a series of crises like nothing else in its 60 years of existence.
Read more Scientology stories by Tony Ortega .
 
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47 comments
ProudMick
ProudMick

Last I checked IMDB, this film had barely grossed a few US dollars over one half its budget. Not a smart place to have invested. 


bjbumb
bjbumb

“The controversial new movie, “The Master,” is described as a forbidden look into the life of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology. Author Steve Hassan, of “Freedom of Mind,” spoke to the “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-hosts about the movie and why it’s got Scientologists up in arms.”:

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7421798n&tag=mncol;lst;1

http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/5050b42f78c90a6f4a000215

The Freedom of Mind information page on the Church of Scientology can be found here!

http://freedomofmind.com/Info/infoDet.php?id=230&title=Scientology

Info on Steve’s new book, Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs, can be found here:

http://freedomofmind.com/Media/bookFreedom.php

DCeight
DCeight

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix have jointly  won the best acting prize for 'The Master' at the Venice film festival. That's good publicity.

TickTockDM
TickTockDM

The name of Joaquin Phoenix's character, Freddie Quell, sounds interesting because "Quelle" in German means "source," and his character has a special relationship with the guru who, in Scientology is also known as "Source."

deElizabethan
deElizabethan

I'll certainly see the movie but will buy the DVD to get all the cuts.

N.Graham
N.Graham

Do they mention any sci-fi writing in the movie?

LaLa104
LaLa104

I think that this type of movie couldn't have happened at a better time given the fact of all the negative media attention of TC and his mental midget leader and how he runs his cult. I'm guessing once this movie is out whether good or bad reviews there will be more Ex's being interviewed to share the inner workings of C0$.I say the more negative attention the more DM's sphincter will tighten..

worstcultever
worstcultever

Good article and interview but I'm frankly wearying of all the hype and PTA adoration. I get it that he's a brilliant auteur, and I'm as intrigued as everybody to see the movie. Maybe I'm just frustrated because I DO care more about Scientology (getting its ass kicked) than whether Joaquin Phoenix is a fuck of an actor. 

LordXenu
LordXenu

No doubt when The Master hits the mainstream cinema screens, there will be a boatload of critical reviews (most probably of the same old copy/paste variety) coming from you-know-who's supporters, 99% of which will have never seen the film. I expect orders from Slappy McPunch have already been drawn up to pass down to the cult faithful, that they must flood the Internet with bad reviews.

S_F_F
S_F_F

I like the implied inevitability in the line, "it has attracted wealthy or famous supporters who later faded away or disavowed the church publicly."

 

Come on, Tom. You may as well admit that you will fade away or disavow the church publicly. Just get it over with.

BosonStark
BosonStark

I suppose they said it's not about Scientology, because people who know nothing of Scientology would think Phoenix plays a character in the real history of Scientology, or that Hubbard did it exactly this way.

However, as Tony pointed out so well, the similarities and depth, the basic story, is still somewhat like a person who is drawn into a cult, and falls prey to a charismatic con man who bloviates like Hubbard, and uses a methodology strikingly similar to Hubbard's.

In reality, I don't believe Hubbard was drawn to people or "cases" who were as out of control or as wild as Phoenix's character of "Freddie" in the movie. However, that makes for a much more interesting movie, than if Anderson had chosen to model the Hubbard acolyte on a more placid dupe like David Mayo, or an "ALL ABOUT EVE" robotic nutcase like David Miscavige, or a toad like Marty Rathbun -- ZZZzzzz.

In the early years of Scientology, if someone was a little too wild, with a loon factor as high as Hubbard's, if they lasted at all, there would eventually be a split, as there was with Capt. Bill Robertson.

I am hoping that in addition to being a fascinating film in itself, a wider interest will be created in people wanting to read Hubbard's real history -- that's all! I don't care how great a work of art the film is, how multi-layered, and complex -- I just want it to awaken people to a taste for the real thing.

And if Anderson is reading, and thinks he doesn't know anything about "Scientology today," LOL, it's the same pile of nutty shit. Hubbard called it Source -- just got a little more nightmarish as it got larger, and more legitimate when it took on popular fruitcakes like Cruise.

LaLa104
LaLa104

Both articles were great here on the VV. I really can't wait to see this movie. I love Hoffman and Pheonix and Amy Adams has always been spectacular in my book.

 

I find it interesting that the director said that C0$ never once contact him before, during or after doing this movie. Wondering once this movie is really OUT if they are going to respond to it in any form of comment or denial.

 

CoolHand
CoolHand

Can't wait to see it.  PTA should hold a special screening for people who have publicly spoken out against and/or departed the, ahem, church, with the cast so we can thank them all in person!  It would be fascinating to speak with them and get their real opinions and see what kind of research they each did for their respective roles.

AussieCase
AussieCase

Thanks for the article Tony!

 

So why the denials from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Paul Thomas Anderson? Are they all lying in concert? Are they sticking to a script?

 

Or do they really believe what they are saying? What exactly are they saying anyways?

 

As I see it, they are saying that there is more to this movie than Scientology, yes it is based on Scientology, and yes there are similarities.

 

A "Scientology movie" would be a movie telling you about Scientology, and this movie, from what I've read, doesn't really do that. It focuses on a larger than life character drawn on Hubbard's past who forms a bizarre movement very much like Scientology. Movies, good movies, tend to focus on characters, and Scientology and its history form the back drop.

 

I do not see the comments by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Paul Thomas Anderson as denials, I think they are pointing out there **is more to their art** than Scientology, and while this is based on Scientology's and Hubbard's history it is not what they would like to describe as simply a "Scientology movie." There is a subtle difference here.

 

In high school we discussed the relationship of Tempest to the Bermuda chronicles, and while there are similarities, and perhaps one draws on the other, there is a lot of artistic license, specially in character development. With the Master and Scientology, the similarities will be more stark, but there will be artistic license, again in character development.

 

I am not denying the similarities, but I am pointing out there is more to this movie, at the very least, from the perspective of those involved in its making.

WhereIsSHE
WhereIsSHE

It is always difficult to believe that people such as Hubbard are able to charm and persuade others to their own, eventual ruin. He certainly was not the first, (see, e.g. "Starvation Heights", a  true story of medical quackery --a "fasting treatment"--for the purpose of financial fleecing by Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard, in the early1900s, in the Pacific Northwest, by Gregg Olson, a journalist and investigative author), and he certainly will not be the last.

The bad news for the charlatans is that we--the global community-- are here to keep a watchful eye and reveal the truth.

 

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