Every once in a while, a documentary comes along that literally drops your jaw. Wild, Wild Country is one of those documentaries, and like Making A Murderer before it, it’s not necessarily the quality of the filmmaking that leaves you reeling… it’s the real life events.
That’s not to say Wild, Wild Country isn’t well-made – it is, but what’s most impressive is how directors, Chaplain and Maclain Way let the history tell the story then captivate, then hit you with huge revelations right before an episode’s end. The kind of reveals that make you say “No fucking wayyyy” out loud before binge-ing another episode despite the fact it’s aready 7 am.
Wild, Wild Country is the story of how a group led by the dynamic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (aka Osho) and his personal secretary, Sheela Silverman (Ma Anand Sheela), purchased the Big Muddy Ranch; 64,000 acres of central Oregon in a bid to build its own, self-sufficient Shangri-La.
Like David Koresh after, the American media villified Bhagwan as a sex guru leader of a cult. His thousands of followers were not naked hippies, they were progressives who wanted to build a better society.
They built a town that could house 50,000 people, complete with an airport, pink-hirted police force, Buddha Hall to house 10,000 meditators, roads, sewage system and intelligent farming that brought life back to the wasteland region via irrigation. But sleepy America doesn’t like to be challenged, so you know what happened next.
As the six part, hour-long series goes on, the narrative becomes darker and darker. Petty politics from the bemused local residents of Antelope town (population 40) leads to religious persecution, xenophobia, firebombings and death threats. Thirty five years on, the directors pulled a major coup in tracking down fire-brand Sheela, other followers and the (still highly bemused) residents of Antelope.
What Wild, Wild Country expertly achieves is how it constantly leaves you torn between the Rajneeshees and the locals. Are the cultists really in search of a better world or are they evil? Or is it the locals and the lawmakers (who, like the rest of America have conveniently forgotten they too are immigrants and that they kicked the real landownwers off generations ago).
I’m only half way through the series and there are already building and training an army. The poisonings are yet to come! I’ve no idea if Osho is the Real McCoy or if he was a charlatan; he was a hypnotist before he became a guru. I hope the series delves into his credentials, but it probably will leave answers ambiguous.
With its fake news, blazon racism and no clue that they themselves are also immigrants, Trump’s America of 2018 is the perfect home for Wild, Wild Country as so much similar hatred is coming home to roost.
Wild, Wild Country is available on Netflix now.