Netflix’s vast array of original documentaries are usually very good. Making a Murderer, Jim and Andy and 13th are a few examples of this. Wild Wild Country is another original documentary that unveils a hidden history of America and looks into the fantastical and outlandish, with a story of a commune that resided in a small town in Oregon. A commune of peace that under the layers of love and harmony lay forth a story full of conspiracies, assassination attempts, fraud and invasions.

Wild Wild Country is about a guru by the name of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who taught about free love and dreamt of creating a city that was a paradise of free love, wealth and meditation. Bhagwan had amassed a loyal following that travelled to a small town in Oregon called Antelope. They purchased a large plot of land and built a city. The conflict of this whole story was the method of how they built this paradise. The legal proceedings of taking over the town of Antelope and renaming it Rajneeshpuram create friction between the locals and the followers, whom were called the sannyasins. On the face of this commune was a free loving and prosperous group of people but underneath there were accusations of immigration fraud, assassination attempts and a  large scale poisoning. This documentary gives a detailed overview from the start and end of the town of Rajneeshpuram.

I was astounded by this documentary not because of the events that happened but by my sheer ignorance of this commune. I have heard about a lot of cults, Jonestown being the most infamous, with the mass suicide pact that led to over 900 deaths , however I had never heard of this commune in Oregon. Documentaries are a great source to shed light on a part of history that by accident or on purpose gets forgotten.  This may also be seen documentary about Bhagwan but that is where you’ll be mistaken. This film may have his face on the poster and it is about people that followed his teachings however, the main focus of this documentary was on his secretary, Ma Anand Sheela.

Over 6 hour long episodes, we get a good insight into the small in physical terms, Ma Anand Sheela, but her character and presence outshines her stature. The whole organisation, creation and maintenance of the commune, of which was held accountable of numerous crimes, can all be linked back to Ma Anand Sheela. She is interviewed for this documentary and her account of what happened are intriguing. Her presence is captivating from the power she had in action and speech. The brashness and raw nature of her archived interviews are outstanding to watch. For someone so petit, she held a town hostage and had so much power, the United States congress had to intervene. She was so convincing in her argument that even when her recollection of events was contradictory, her conviction was so strong it was hard to disbelieve what she was saying. She is a unique model of a human and it was absolutely captivating to see her role within the commune transgressed and evolving power of this woman.

Other interviews were filmed that included locals of Antelope, some highly ranked  members of the commune and politicians. These accounts gave a well handled discussion of the events that happened. To the point that it was hard which way the documentarian had sided with. Was the commune ultimately bad? There was definitely a dark underbelly that had marked the teachings of the Bhagwan, but how deep did they run? The documentary series doesn’t answer all the questions that it sets up but it does give a good account of what happened and how different people were affected. As the episodes progress it was jaw dropping to see the events that had folded. It went from an innocent creation of this paradise to a large scale program of immigration fraud and terrorist plots. The unfolding of these events are just unbelievable.

The only weakness this documentary has, is that it looked like there was a lot going on within the commune and some parts were lightly brushed over. It would of been nice to get a look into more of what happened within the commune rather than the legal proceedings outside it. The six hour long episodes gave opportunity to this but some of those opportunities were not utilised.  The stylistic shots between interviews were great to behold. The shots were slowed down and serene, this added to the surrealness of the topic discussed. The look of the documentary was a great visual connection to the past events and did not distract from the ludicrosity of the events within the Rajneeshpuram.

Wild Wild Country, is a captivating piece of filmmaking that sheds a light on a forgotten part of American history. There are no words in the English language that could describe accurately the true outlandish nature of this commune. The conflict, the dark underbelly and the power one can have is astounding. This is a documentary that needs to be seen to be believed. A fantastic look into the fringes of society that shows the trials and tribulations of creating a new city and the depths people would go to appease the people they worship.

 

Rating – ★★★★