I wholeheartedly went into Spring Break last month with the intention of catching up on school work I fell behind on, but instead I binged an entire series on cults. Though to be honest, this isn’t entirely out of character for me on a regular week. Netflix’s new series “Wild Wild Country” hooked me from the start, and I think non-cult enthusiasts will find it just as addicting.
The series follows Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the community (called Rajneeshpuram) he created in Wasco County, Oregon during the 1980s. The Rajneeshpuram began in India as a spiritual movement that encouraged alternate life choices outside of the mainstream. When it moved to Oregon, Rajneesh decided — with the help of his secretary and spokesperson, Ma Anand Sheela — to legitimize the community and turn it into a city.
They started by building restaurants and stores within the commune. Soon that escalated into attempting to take over political power of the area, much to the neighboring communities’ outrage. The story only gets more and more wild from there, with political battles and assassination attempts becoming a normal occurrence.
The series is only six episodes long, with each an hour in length. There are certainly parts that run slower than others, but for the most part, I felt completely engaged the entire time: It’s beautifully directed and really well-organized. Some longform documentary series have an issue with jumping around in time in order to stay engaging, but this series stays true to chronological order, and each episode ends with a wild twist that practically forces you to keep watching.
The coolest aspect of this series is all the found footage that they’ve included. I believe they mention that one of the members was already creating a documentary about the community, so we are so lucky as viewers to get such intimate footage from inside the commune. They also utilize news specials from the time period, which provide so much context for the communities surrounding the cult.
The best part of the series is by far the firsthand interviews with people who were actual members. The most notable of these interviews are with Ma Anand Sheela, who is in all honesty a badass. Yes, she’s a villain, but she was also severely attacked by the media for being a very blunt and confident woman — the media vilified her more than Rajneesh himself.
The interviews with Sheela and others who worked closely with her come from a really interesting place. They never seem like they are setting them up to look like the bad people, or to make them look stupid or ridiculous: The interviews actually humanize these people. Oftentimes when discussing cults, it seems so far removed from reality that it’s difficult to remember those involved in these cults are often average human beings, just like you and me.
The series is as engaging as it is visually striking — which is no surprise, as it is executive produced by indie darlings the Duplass brothers — and if you have some spare time these next few weeks, I highly recommend taking it all in. But be warned: The six hours you spend watching it will be followed by hours and hours of researching other cults on Wikipedia. That counts as studying, right?