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 .
 
My Voice Nation Help
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.

sugarplumfairy32
sugarplumfairy32

@TickTockDM it's also the name of a medicine that kills lice and scabies.. sorry.. im a nurse.. it was the first thing I thought of when I read the name..

PoisonIvy
PoisonIvy

I didn't know the German reference but the word "quell" is certainly one fraught with meaning:  

 

Merriam-Webster for example:

 

quell vt \ˈkwel\Definition of QUELL1: to thoroughly overwhelm and reduce to submission or passivity <quell a riot>2: quiet, pacify <quell fears>— quell·er noun

LaLa104
LaLa104

 @deElizabethan

 I usually wait for the DVD just for the behind the scenes stuff.. Yet I think I will break down and see this in the theaters when it comes out.

dbloch7986
dbloch7986

 @N.Graham From what I have read from Tony and around the internets, it seems they focused on the real world story as opposed to the religious writings.

PoisonIvy
PoisonIvy

 @LordXenu What can't be stopped - even by the cut-and-paste reviewers - will be human curiousity.  People who see the film will be inspired to go to the dreaded internet and google a little bit about the real L Ron Hubbard.  And they will have a treasure trove of goodies to discover there!

PoisonIvy
PoisonIvy

 @BosonStark "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."  Ahhh...but this is where fiction can work its magic and become TRUER than fact!  Could it be that Freddie symbolizes the weakness in people that LRH was hell-bent on exploiting...and which ultimately destroyed him?  OR, could it be that Freddie is a symbolic reflection of the true troubled psyche, the madness and fanaticism of Hubbard himself?  When it comes to really twisting the knife of truth into the hearts of liars, fiction is definitely our friend.

deElizabethan
deElizabethan

 @LaLa104  but I thought I read somewhere that he discussed or went over it with Tom Cruise?

PoisonIvy
PoisonIvy

 @LaLa104 Well, they can't sue him for fictionalizing the story of a historical figure.  You couldn't even do that in England.

PoisonIvy
PoisonIvy

 @CoolHand Unfortunately I don't think he's in "exposing the church" business.  That will be a side effect of his work.  

WhereIsSHE
WhereIsSHE

There are legal reasons for the denials from PTA and cast members. (Personally, I think the way PTA and PSH decided to get around it was to come up with the "it's Freddie's story" line.)

PoisonIvy
PoisonIvy

 @WhereIsSHE I LOVED Starvation Heights!  If I had the money I'd option that one for a film.  Real life Horror Story.  Brrrrrrrr.

sugarplumfairy32
sugarplumfairy32

@WhereIsSHE Yah..there have always been sweet talkers who can charm you out of anything.. but usually they're better looking than lrh..

WhereIsSHE
WhereIsSHE

http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=7955

 

From the link above:

 

Hazzard, Linda Burfield (1867-1938): Fasting Proponent and Killer

HistoryLink.org Essay 7955 : Printer-Friendly Format

Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard was a sadistic and greedy quack who convinced patients that only by starving themselves for months at a time could they regain their health. Unsurprisingly, many of her patients died of starvation. Her “sanitarium” in the small town of Olalla in Kitsap County was nicknamed Starvation Heights by the locals, who sometimes came across skeletal escapees staggering down the road begging for food. Hazzard and her husband, Sam, also had the habit of helping themselves to patients’ assets through fraud, forgery, and outright theft. When she was tried for murder in January 1912, the prosecutor called her “a financial starvationist” and made the case that she intentionally starved her patients to death for monetary gain.

Alternative to Healing

Hazzard was author of several books including Fasting for the Cure of Disease. Although she had only a little training as an osteopathic nurse, Hazzard didn’t hesitate to call herself a doctor, snapping at the news reporters covering her trial: “I have told you time and time again, it is Dr. Hazzard. Mrs. Hazzard is my mother-in-law.”

Despite her lack of a medical degree, she was licensed to practice medicine in Washington. A loophole in a licensing law grandfathered in some practitioners of alternative medicine who didn’t have medical degrees, including Hazzard.

Hazzard said disease could be cured by fasting, allowing the digestive system to “rest” and be “cleansed,” removing “impurities” from the body. Fasting, she maintained, could cure anything from toothache to tuberculosis. The real source of all disease was “impure blood” brought on by “impaired digestion.” There were other popular proponents of fasting around at the time. Hazzard said she had studied with one of them, Dr. Edward Hooker Dewey, author of The Gospel of Health.

But Hazzard added some embellishments of her own. Her regime included daily enemas that went on for hours and involved up to twelve quarts of water. Patients were heard to cry out in pain during these procedures. The third part of her therapy was massage that consisted of Hazzard -- a wiry woman said to be stronger than the average man -- beating her fists against the patients’ foreheads and backs. One alarmed witness reported her doing so vigorously while shouting “Eliminate! Eliminate!”

LaLa104
LaLa104

 @deElizabethan

 I don't really know about that deE..... Could you even imagine if TC had read this script.. Bwwwwaaaahahahahaha .. I think he would of popped a vein ...

AussieCase
AussieCase

 @WhereIsSHE In my experience artists, even American artists, do not lie for legal reasons when it comes to their art, maybe they lie about their affairs and their age.

 

Artists also don't alter their stories for legal reasons, well perhaps they do, but they resist it all the way. Inventing a character for legal reasons seems a bit much.

 

I see the simplest explanation as they made a story that they thought was good, and they based it in many ways on the history of Scientology and Hubbard. In some sense artists often believe they are telling the "bigger" story.

WhereIsSHE
WhereIsSHE

@PoisonIvy  That one could be filmed so eerily...so beautifully, with the pacific northwest backdrop. Love to see who you'd cast as Hazzard and her husband.

WhereIsSHE
WhereIsSHE

@sugarplumfairy32 I'm glad you mentioned it! LRH is f-ing hideous!

 

I have to admit, in my younger days, I could totally have fallen for Edward Norton's (unnamed) narrator character in Fight Club. Especially the scenes with Marla Singer (played so expertly by Helena Bonham Carter).

Fuck, he was sexy in that role as the film progressed....and he became dark, then darker.

(I'm sure others would prefer Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden, but... Edward Norton is so much hotter, IMO).

 

WhereIsSHE
WhereIsSHE

Right. Hubbard is dead. (OR IS HE?!! lol! http://vimeo.com/1049483)

 

Others who were around him at the start, however....

Gotta do the disclaimer.

 

 

PoisonIvy
PoisonIvy

 @WhereIsSHE "In the U.S., studios that do not secure "life story rights" from subjects of a film can expose themselves to a myriad of claims, including invasion of privacy, libel, defamation, tortious interference, etc."  

Yes, but only the surviving members of an individuals estate could remotely sue under these claims when the "life story" is that of a public figure.  And you can't libel or defame the dead. Unless the story is directly based on an individual historian's biography, a genuine historical figure is open to artistic interpretation without securing rights.  

"They can say they based the story-line on historical research about LRH, dianetics, scientology etc, but they expose themselves to such claims if they do not disclaim that a particular character in the film is based on the life story of X or Y or Z."

Hubbard didn't write an autobiography and the character and his life circumstances are clearly fictionalized.  PTA can say "It's inspired by L Ron Hubbard" 'till the cows come home and no one has a case against him; just as if he said, "It's inspired by the life of Abraham Lincoln." From my experience in rights clearances, I'd venture that PTA is legally okay all around on this front, which is probably why Scientology stayed mum. 

Now, if he came out and said, "This movie was inspired by the life of "WhereIsSHE", you could sue him, for invasion of privacy and/or more.  Because you are not an historical nor a public figure (as far as we know! :-D ).  

WhereIsSHE
WhereIsSHE

AC-

It is RARE that a film like this--about a topic so controversial, and against a group as litigious-- is made.

Liberties were taken for artistic purposes (plot, themes, characters,etc.)

Whether you wish to believe it or not, the studio/production company lawyers would have had input as to how questions were responded to by PTA and cast members.

In the U.S., studios that do not secure "life story rights" from subjects of a film can expose themselves to a myriad of claims, including invasion of privacy, libel, defamation, tortious interference, etc.

(This is why you will frequently see the standard disclaimer at the beginning of a film to the effect of: "All persons portrayed are completely fictitious, etc" OR "The story, all names, characters and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, places, buildings and products is intended or should be inferred.")

They can say they based the story-line on historical research about LRH, dianetics, scientology etc, but they expose themselves to such claims if they do not disclaim that a particular character in the film is based on the life story of X or Y or Z.

 

 

 

sugarplumfairy32
sugarplumfairy32

@PoisonIvy @WhereIsSHE Yep.. Clive can starve me any day..

PoisonIvy
PoisonIvy

 @WhereIsSHE The guy who plays Mr. Bates in "Downton Abbey" might be even better for Hazzard's husband...

WhereIsSHE
WhereIsSHE

TILDA would be PERFECT!!

You are GOOD!!!!!

LaLa104
LaLa104

 @PoisonIvy  @WhereIsSHE  @sugarplumfairy32

 Yes, every pic I have seen of lrh I find him revolting and quite honestly fugly ... But charleton's (sp?) throughout history had their wiley ways in seducing even the most beautiful women.. Go figure.

PoisonIvy
PoisonIvy

 @WhereIsSHE  @sugarplumfairy32  In Janet Reitman's book, she writes about how LRH was a total ladies man back in his occult practicing days.  Can you imagine?  He must've been a brilliant hypnotist indeed, to have pulled that off.

 

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!

Movie Trailers

Loading...