Sunday, April 29, 2007

Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple

This is easily one of the most upsetting movies I have every seen. For those that don't know the story, it is a documentary of the "church" led by Jim Jones, which resulted in the deaths of 909 of his followers. From the very beginning this movie is depressing, and it only gets darker up to the very end.

Jim Jones is the charismatic founder of the Peoples Temple. From the beginning, his ideals attracted a mass following. He preached equality, creating the countries first interracial church. Somewhere along the line, however, he slowly began to descend into what can only be described as insanity. His followers gave up all of their possessions, donating all their money to the church, and moving into his commune. It is important that this commune moved from Indiana, to California, then finally out of the country to Guyana, with hundreds of people following him. The end result, was the suicide/murder of almost all of his followers.

It's difficult to review a movie- especially a documentary, based on the merit of the film itself and not the content. This movie, however, beautifully portrays the disturbing, and truly horrifying nature of these events. During the opening title sequence it clearly reveals the end of the story. The first half of the movie spends time investigating how Jones was able to amass such a following. Testimonies from members who survived, or left early on, describe him as an incredibly powerful and influential speaker.

The movie then delves into his madness, featuring clips with him saying "I am the only heterosexual on Earth, everyone else is homosexual," and perhaps most frighteningly "If you want me to be your friend, I will be your friend. I you want me to be your father, I will be your father. If you want me to be your God, I will be your God." Unfortunately the completely devoted trust people put in him was not returned.

In one truly frightening scene, he passed around Kool-aid for his congregation to drink. After they finished he stated that it was poison. In the midst of the chaos that ensued Jones then revealed that it was not true, and that it had simply been a test of their devotion. These tests continued in keeping people awake and working for a week at a time, and promoting his political agendas.

After the move to Guyana, it fell into a state of near captivity. It was literally a big brother society. Nobody was allowed to communicate with the outside world, and all news was filtered through him. Jones even went so far as to institute speakers playing his speeches twenty-four hours a day. People were encouraged to report any dissent, or anybody wishing to leave. Finally, Senator Theo Ryan from Texas began investigating the church, which resulted in his death, and the deaths of several of his assistants and journalists. After this, Jones felt that there was nothing left to do but end it all. This included the forced suicide of nearly all of his followers.

The movie is entirely narrated by those close to the church. The interviewees are primarily the few that escaped, and one of Ryan's aids who miraculously survived the murders. Each of these people were affected, and lost family members to the church- some losing their entire family. These interviews were truly heartbreaking.

It's not often that I write a review simply conveying the movie, but this movie is so powerful that I had no other way of doing it. I am still genuinely upset by it. Jonestown is not a film I will soon forget.


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