I watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master this evening.
My first thought while walking out of the theater was a one sentence sum up as follows:
Given the behavior, product and the likely resultant public perception for the past twenty six years of David Miscavige’s Scientology Inc., Anderson’s film is probably the best possible healing salve imaginable for Scientology.
On August 28th, I made a prediction about the movie in a comment on this blog that went against the grain of the plethora of ‘doomsday’ predictions for Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard. I noted:
I have a different (and possibly wildly inaccurate) take on the likely content and impact of the movie. That is, based on the involvement of an actor of Hoffman’s skill and a director of Anderson’s, I bet while they paint the Master as a con, they also make him human and the audience will have some level of sympathy (ala Bush at least looking likeable when Stone hammered him, and the same with Clinton in Primary Colors). To do a one dimensional slam job would be way below the pay grade of this calibre of artist. One lone viewpont. We’ll see.
My prediction turns out to be a fairly accurate sum up of what I saw on the screen tonight. However, there was not even any attempt to paint L. Ron Hubbard as a con.
While literal corporate Scientologists will likely arrogantly and smugly convince one another Anderson was clueless about the sum and substance of the core philosophy of Scientology, their captive minds will have missed out on the larger truth Anderson so competently and accurately captured. They will have missed the forest for the trees and missed a wonderful opportunity to begin to wake up and investigate all the propaganda their own church has been implanting in them, and thus the opportunity to fully appreciate L. Ron Hubbard the man and their own religion.
If there is any fault in the film, it will be the one corporate Scientologists can hang their misguided criticisms on. That is, for those well-studied and practiced in the subject, the portrayal of the methodologies and philosophy of Scientology was just plainly too shallow. But, even Anderson’s shortcoming is a boon for Scientology. For the average viewer, his portrayal of ‘processing’ is probably a tremendous mitigation of whatever their notions about it were coming in to the movie, given corporate Scientology’s bastardization of the subject.
What they will miss by focusing on the technical inaccuracy, however, is the amazingly apt, artistic portrayal of L. Ron Hubbard and the ultimate, aberrated group dynamic of Scientology. Paul Thomas Anderson digs L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology better than Tom Cruise, John Travolta, David Miscavige (corporate Scientology’s supreme leader – read, Freddie Quell at the helm) and probably every other card carrying member of Scientology Incoporated.
Though I never met L. Ron Hubbard in the flesh, I probably had more access to and have studied more of his own words, and all of the available histories about him, from his cradle till his death. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in my opinion, captured Hubbard’s beingness (personality) perfectly. One dear friend and person who was personally trained by Hubbard to the highest levels of Scientology and who spent years in his company made precisely the same assessment of Hoffman’s performance.
I probably spent more years interacting with, and had more access to more detailed information about, those who throughout Scientology’s history devoted themselves to it and Hubbard to the point of violently defending him, to ultimately becoming disappointed, than anyone in the history of Scientology. I cannot imagine a more accurate and effective combining of those hundreds of people into a single character than the performance of Joaquin Phoenix.
Corporate Scientologists, to the degree they are even permitted to watch the movie, will likely chafe at the finale when Phoenix is confronted by Dodd with a tough dilemna: remain in the group and be loved and cared for, with the caveat that he will always remain subservient and obedient to the master, or freely pursue his own path, with the caveat that he will be considered an enemy in the future and will be treated with no mercy as such.
It is understood that the truth sometimes initially hurts. I witness and deal with the reality of the painful truth of The Master’s finale each and every day of my life. It has become my calling to heal that pain. I can attest that is painful. But, I cannot deny that it is the truth.
For those interested in the mechanics of how that is so in modern-day Scientology, I cover it rather thoroughly in What Is Wrong With Scientology?: Healing Through Understanding (Amazon books).
At the end of the day, The Master is a must-see, most particularly for Scientologists of any stripe (corporate, independent or otherwise).