Okay, that was a very disturbing documentary. Well done, but pretty damn scary. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
combined interviews with survivors of Jim Jones' cult with Peoples Temple archival footage from the 1960s and 70s, as well as outlining the history of the movement and its subsequent changes.
In its early days, the movement's intentions seemed innocent enough (doesn't it always?), with its emphasis on racial equality and diversity, and its socialist-style agenda, but Jim Jones' sinister control of congregation members got more and more ruthless and evil. Rumours of his sexual assaults on women in the movement surfaced, while he claimed that everyone was actually homosexual, with him being the only heterosexual in the group (!). While preaching that sexual desire and sexual relationships were a selfish waste of energy, he was raping whomever he chose in the back of Bus #7 ("Jim's bus").
Using what are now known as typical deprivation control tactics, Jones cut members off from their friends and family as well as from sleep, keeping them so busy that they lost the will to think for themselves. One survivor said that the longest she was awake for was six days straight! Eventually Jones' paranoia took over completely, though not before he acheived a high-ranking official position with the San Francisco housing authority. Full of status and charisma, he met top politicians and celebrities, which helped to lend credibility to his "religion."
When an article threatened to expose some truths about the Peoples Temple, Jones immediately - overnight - moved his group to the compound he'd had built in Guyana. Touted as a paradise on earth, the group was now totally isolated and cut off from the world.
One of the most unsettling facts about life in Jonestown was that Jim Jones recorded his dictates and sermons and played this endless recording on a loud speaker that played constantly, night and day, at full volume throughout the compound. There was no escaping Jim Jones and his decrees, awake or asleep.
The climax and horrific tragedy of this almost-unbelieveable situation ocurred when a US senator (I forget his name now) came to Jonestown, along with the media, to investigate the group. I won't tell you what happens, but most of you already how that day ends. The Kool-Aid, the dead babies, the rows and rows of bodies of all ages in the jungle.
It wasn't as though the people in this group knew they were in a cult and committed overnight to Jones' crazed commands. It was all very gradual. He started off seeming "normal" enough. People found a sense of community and justice amid turbulent and disheartening times in the US. It offered hope, and ultimately gave them death.
My only criticism of Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
as a film is that as an audience, we never really got to find out how the survivors actually made their escape. There was an unsatisfying text-only postscript before the closing credits that said some escaped into the jungle. Since so much of the film emphasized the cult's isolation, and the elaborate lengths to which Jones went to confine and control his followers (prisoners), it was disappointing not to have this highly-anticipated information imparted.
Overall though, I recommend this documentary for its honest and humane exploration of this now-mythologized cult leader.
Very, very creepy.