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April 16, 2018 | by  | in Arts TV |
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Wild Wild Country

4/5

It has become apparent that pop culture is in no way scared to retread the same cult tales in order to satisfy viewers. There seems to be no slowing down of stories about Charles Manson or Scientology. Netflix’s documentary series Wild Wild Country has an advantage over most documentaries (which mostly serve to expand a viewer’s already held knowledge about a topic) in that its subject matter introduces an incredible, and mostly forgotten, story in recent American history.

The 6-part series recounts the events leading up to and taking place during the founding of the Rajneeshpuram commune in Oregon in the 1980s, headed by controversial religious guru Baghwan Shree Rajneesh. After clashing horns too many times with the Government of India, Rajneesh and his followers decided to build a new home in America, making the most of uninhabited farm land. A giant dam, an electricity station, an airport, and 10,000 seat mediation centre were all created on the land that would become Rajneeshpuram, and upon it being ready, Rajneesh and his followers relocated there. The cult that ultimately came about from these events reflected what many would consider to be key elements of some the most well-known cults; paranoia, control, eccentricity, and an unwavering vision.

If this were simply a retelling of a spiritual movement clashing with conservative townsfolk, the series may still have worked. But it is the themes of sexual exploration, religious freedoms, vigilantism, criminal prosecution, immigration fraud, and biological warfare, that create a confronting and fascinating story which ignited a cultural conversation.

One of the main strengths about Wild Wild Country is its even-handedness and intelligence in chronicling the events brought about by both Rajneeshpuram members and the townspeople living in the small town of Antelope, Oregon, where the commune was established. With filmmakers Maclain Way and Chapman Way interviewing all those involved, Rajneesh’s followers, the townspeople, and law enforcement officials, not one perspective or concern is spared and viewers are left with a fully realised picture of what occurred.

Yet even with such a full picture, you would not be alone in still having a hazy perspective of the story. The fact that this is likely to be the first time you see or hear about Rajneeshpuram makes it all the more complicated — viewers are going in with fresh minds and no preconceived ideas about who may be the heroes and who may be the villains. It is quite intriguing to see the completely different experiences one could have of Wild Wild Country. Depending on what you take away from the series, and who you are and what you believe, you are challenged with the complication question of: who and what do you support? Do you side with blind religious devotion or devotion to your country? Much like those involved in the Rajneeshpuram events, it comes down to what beliefs you hold, and those beliefs will determine who you assign fault to.

For a tale that seems so distant from current society, the series proves to be enveloping and appropriately handled and paced. Rather than just telling viewers the story of an obscure cult, Wild Wild Country draws you in for the long run, and it proves to be a both a marathon, and a sprint.

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