What's it rated? TV-MA
This story is crazy.
Pretty much from beginning to end, I sort of had open-mouth syndrome. I knew nothing about Wild Wild Country before I started the first episode in the recently released Netflix docu-series, except that it took place In the Middle of Nowhere, Oregon, and involved a cult with a leader who loved Rolls-Royce.
Turns out, it's a little more complicated than that, and the details about what unfolded in the early 1980s near Antelope, Oregon, are shocking. Directed by siblings McLain and Chapman Way, the series draws on nearly 300 hours of archival news footage of the conflicts surrounding Rajneeshpuram, a city that grew almost instantaneously out of the high desert in Central Oregon. The brothers interviewed Antelope residents and Rajneeshees who lived through the tumultuous time to help tell the story.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was a popular, charismatic spiritual leader in the 1970s in India, introducing the practice known as dynamic meditation, which to me looks like a bunch of people screaming and waving their hands in the air in ecstasy. But I'm not enlightened, so there's that. It attracted a significant following from around the world, Westerners flooded into Puna, India, where his ashram was located. He wrote hundreds of books, advocated for free love and living in the moment, and preached a spirituality that included meditation and materialism.
After some issues with the local government in India, he decided it was time to find another spot: An empty 64,000-acre ranch that would become a commune of more than 3,000 people and an international hub for sannyasins (his followers) in just a few short years. As Rajneeshpuram grew and expanded, so did conflicts with Antelope, Wasco County, the State of Oregon, and the federal government. Fortunately, there's no mass suicide (which is probably why you've never heard of this slice of American history).
Rajneeshees eventually took over Antelope's city government and threatened to do the same with the county, feeling discriminated against as they tried to create a vision for the future. The threat of violence hung over Central Oregon in the early 1980s like a cloud. Sannyasins built a great dam, created a self-sustaining farm, a conference center, and homes, but eventually things started to unravel into a tale of immigration fraud, failed assassination plots, and a mass poisoning in nearby The Dalles.
The story is spellbinding—and that's not an exaggeration. It will have you rooting for Antelope residents in the same breath as you switch to sympathizing with the Rajneeshees. In one moment, you are totally certain that it's a cult, and seconds later, you'll double back to question whether what they practiced and believed was actually a religion.
However, the real focus of this doc seems to be Ma Anand Sheela, Bhagwan's right-hand woman who ran the commune and international business, and whether she's an evil mastermind or a dedicated follower who was wronged.
The beauty about this docu-series is it leaves the questions of what and who to believe up to the watcher. Namaste. (Six, 64 to 72 minute episodes) Δ