Phillp Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams provide glimpses of stellar performances in a new trailer for the movie “The Master.” Say what you will, the film smacks of Scientology.
The pseudo-religion was founded after World War II by L. Ron Hubbard, a paperback novel writer, and has risen to become an influential and secretive organization.
It has made strong inroads in Hollywood and counts Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its members. But many former adherents have denounced Scientology as a cult tightly controlled by its leaders for personal gain.
The movie takes place after World War II, as America returns to peacetime and people are left to sort out their lives after the horrors of the war and the advent of the atomic bomb.
Eras never end precisely on century demarcations, and World War II really marked the end of the colonial era, which spanned from the early 1400s with Columbus’s discovery of America, up through the Imperial ambitions of nations like England, Germany, France and Russia.
Empires were built by the barrel of a gun, hence the long wars between colonial powers up through the rise and fall of the Third Reich. With the old empires gone, the morals and ethos of the imperial era went with them.
In the age of the atom bomb, total human annihilation was possible for the first time in history. Living under that threat, which could come imminently with little warning, spawned a host of radical new ideas, including pseudo-religions like Scientology, supposedly based in “modern science” rather than ancient mysticism.
Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic individual, who witnesses World War II’s horrors and tries to find new meaning in life. His wife Mary Sue, played by Adams, is his leading acolyte.
Drifter Freddie Quell, played by Phoenix, also is searching for meaning and becomes Dodd’s first apostle. But like many fervent believers, he soon comes to doubt his master.
So what are the connections to Scientology? Nothing claims Hoffman and producer Harvey Weinstein. Yet the film is salted with similarities. Hoffman’s character looks, sounds and is the same age as Hubbard. He starts his religion in 1952, the same year as Hubbard. And, both have wives named Mary Sue.
Go Figure. But if “The Master” doesn’t examine the tenets of Scientology, it does explore the context that gave rise to these new “religions,” how they were able to take root and how so many of them became corrupt and hypocritical. Whew! Pretty heavy stuff, but potentially a great film.
“The Master” will be screened at the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival before being released in theaters on Sept. 14, in plenty of time for Oscar consideration. Check out the trailer.