The cinematic rendition of cults

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The trick is not minding
Sound of my Voice is definitely among the better ones. I wouldnít say Midsommar really counts, I mean, do they even have a philosophy? They have
WARNING: spoilers below
that pseudo-Aryan throw-old-people-off-the-cliff thing
, and they try to procreate to get new members, I guess, but what else is there?

Donít think Iíve seen Distance, so thanks, will check out.
Midsommar absolutely counts. It centers around a cult that must sacrifice lives for some reason that escapes me. But is definitely fits the bill.



Midsommar absolutely counts. It centers around a cult that must sacrifice lives for some reason that escapes me. But is definitely fits the bill.
Okay, fair enough. I guess thatís exactly what I was getting at when I started the thread - that ideally, Iím looking for ones where the logical justification/raison díÍtre of the cult is a bit better grounded than that. But as Thief says, the whole problem is that cults are usually deployed as a gimmick and rarely have a compelling narrative. The reason I mention The Endless is that it does, albeit imperfectly, show that
WARNING: spoilers below
the cult believes that time resets after three full moons appear in the sky, and that if someone joins during that time, theyíll never leave, and that everyone in the cult becomes immortal. And it also shows that all of the above is factually true as far as the film is concerned.
. Iím looking for something like that. Sound of my Voice had the exact same approach.



The trick is not minding
Okay, fair enough. I guess thatís exactly what I was getting at when I started the thread - that ideally, Iím looking for ones where the logical justification/raison díÍtre of the cult is a bit better grounded than that. But as Thief says, the whole problem is that cults are usually deployed as a gimmick and rarely have a compelling narrative. The reason I mention The Endless is that it does, albeit imperfectly, show that
WARNING: spoilers below
the cult believes that time resets after three full moons appear in the sky, and that if someone joins during that time, theyíll never leave, and that everyone in the cult becomes immortal. And it also shows that all of the above is factually true as far as the film is concerned.
. Iím looking for something like that. Sound of my Voice had the exact same approach.
Iíve heard of The Sound of my Voice, and it definitely sounds like what youíre looking for. Need to see it for myself yet.



minds his own damn business
I can't think of any real world cults that have anything like a "logical justification" or a "consistent philosophy". I think that's part of what makes them cults. Moonies, Nxivm, Branch Davidians, Children of God, Scientology, the Simulation.... they all collapse into absurdity on the briefest glance. Part of the reason for the zealous defensiveness is due to the subconscious understanding of this clay foundation which they've been effectively programmed to deny. It's a very powerful psychological shackle to convince yourself of something you truly intuit as unbelieveable. Maybe Scientology is the prime example, because by the time the "truth" is revealed to you, you've already been groomed to accept it as revelation.

Most cults are strictly about power in this sense, specifically that of the charismatic leader, fueled by whatever sense of social resentment and alienation that an adherent brings to the fold. The need for purity, order, authenticity are the things that a guru molds like putty. Authoritarian dependence is the common currency.

So I'll go with The Master.
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I can't think of any real world cults that have anything like a "logical justification" or a "consistent philosophy". I think that's part of what makes them cults. Moonies, Nxivm, Branch Davidians, Children of God, Scientology, the Simulation.... they all collapse into absurdity on the briefest glance. Part of the reason for the zealous defensiveness is due to the subconscious understanding of this clay foundation which they've been effectively programmed to deny. It's a very powerful psychological shackle to convince yourself of something you truly intuit as unbelieveable. Maybe Scientology is the prime example, because by the time the "truth" is revealed to you, you've already been groomed to accept it as revelation.

Most cults are strictly about power in this sense, specifically that of the charismatic leader, fueled by whatever sense of social resentment and alienation that an adherent brings to the fold. The need for purity, order, authenticity are the things that a guru molds like putty. Authoritarian dependence is the common currency.

So I'll go with The Master.
I deliberately established a clear distinction between real world cults and cinema cults. As anything in a film, a cult has to ideally have a logic, a purpose and clear Ďrulesí which makes sense in the filmís universe. Thatís what I was getting at. I am not really making a comment on real world cults and how much sense they make beyond whatís already been said. But if we must, Iím more interested in cults like the Essenes, who created the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are one of the earliest communities referred to as a Ďcultí with absolutely no New Age connotations.



Been a while since I've seen it, but I do remember Apostle being somewhat interesting in how it juxtaposed the hero's beliefs and history of religious persecution with that of the cult he investigates.


And while I had issues with the movie, I think The Sacrament gets the importance of a charismatic leader in a cult setting.



Been a while since I've seen it, but I do remember Apostle being somewhat interesting in how it juxtaposed the hero's beliefs and history of religious persecution with that of the cult he investigates.


And while I had issues with the movie, I think The Sacrament gets the importance of a charismatic leader in a cult setting.
I will watch the latter as I donít think I ever saw it and Apostle, although undoubtedly competent and visually stunning, wasnít my cup of tea. I think the historical setting really jarred.



minds his own damn business
I deliberately established a clear distinction between real world cults and cinema cults. As anything in a film, a cult has to ideally have a logic, a purpose and clear Ďrulesí which makes sense in the filmís universe. Thatís what I was getting at.
Well there are films that reflect the more real world type of cult, like MMMM, being the first film you mentioned. I don't think that these kinds of films are less "cinematic". But if you'd rather stick to supernatural cults represented in films, I guess I'll have to go with Passion of the Christ.



But if we must, Iím more interested in cults like the Essenes, who created the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are one of the earliest communities referred to as a Ďcultí with absolutely no New Age connotations.
Mm, I think John M. Allegro might disagree with that last part. The problem is that we don't really know with a lot of certainty what the Essene community consisted of in their specific philosophy. I would only consider them a "cult" in the sense of their relative small size and obscurity, but their beliefs don't appear to be substantially different than their less ascetic Hebrew neighbors, the similarly ascetic Nazarenes, or any of the other more Gnostic "cults" of the time. And in this context, a "cult" was generally a pejorative given to a community by the larger conquering cults that had the power to arbitrate what is and isn't heretical to their own orthodox authority. So in that sense, it's still ultimately about power and a charismatic leader (probably more Paul than Jesus).


There's some good films about heretical threats to religious authority as well, but it sounds like you're more interested in something more occult than that (Rosemary's Baby, Hereditary). I suppose the original Wicker Man is an optimal example of a "pagan" cult belief structure that doesn't require an actual supernatural presence to give it philosophical consistency.



Registered User
Conan the Barbarian? Seriously? Need to revisit that, I guess.
Oh yes. They are Set's in those cursed towers. They've spread to every city. Years ago, it was a snake cult. Now? Everywhere. They are deceivers. They murder people in the night.

I know nothing.

Hey, Agrippa!

I have Black lotus. Stygian! The best.



The trick is not minding
Iím going to back Jinn on The Master.
But it may not fit inside the frame you have set up yourself, but I think it would Normally.



I can't think of any real world cults that have anything like a "logical justification" or a "consistent philosophy". I think that's part of what makes them cults. Moonies, Nxivm, Branch Davidians, Children of God, Scientology, the Simulation.... they all collapse into absurdity on the briefest glance. Part of the reason for the zealous defensiveness is due to the subconscious understanding of this clay foundation which they've been effectively programmed to deny. It's a very powerful psychological shackle to convince yourself of something you truly intuit as unbelieveable. Maybe Scientology is the prime example, because by the time the "truth" is revealed to you, you've already been groomed to accept it as revelation.

Most cults are strictly about power in this sense, specifically that of the charismatic leader, fueled by whatever sense of social resentment and alienation that an adherent brings to the fold. The need for purity, order, authenticity are the things that a guru molds like putty. Authoritarian dependence is the common currency.

So I'll go with The Master.
Youíre right, and Scientology absolutely is the prime example. I was just trying to convey what I was looking for, rather than having a deep discussion about cults. I sometimes think I am the type of person that could join one and be reasonably happy in it, especially when **** gets toughÖ but havenít tried it yet, thank God.

The Master is actually a great one, Iíll give that another viewing. Curiously, as someone who loves most of PTAís work, I always overlook this one.



Mm, I think John M. Allegro might disagree with that last part. The problem is that we don't really know with a lot of certainty what the Essene community consisted of in their specific philosophy. I would only consider them a "cult" in the sense of their relative small size and obscurity, but their beliefs don't appear to be substantially different than their less ascetic Hebrew neighbors, the similarly ascetic Nazarenes, or any of the other more Gnostic "cults" of the time. And in this context, a "cult" was generally a pejorative given to a community by the larger conquering cults that had the power to arbitrate what is and isn't heretical to their own orthodox authority. So in that sense, it's still ultimately about power and a charismatic leader (probably more Paul than Jesus).


There's some good films about heretical threats to religious authority as well, but it sounds like you're more interested in something more occult than that (Rosemary's Baby, Hereditary). I suppose the original Wicker Man is an optimal example of a "pagan" cult belief structure that doesn't require an actual supernatural presence to give it philosophical consistency.
Always a huge pleasure to talk to experts on this. Iíve read the Dead Sea Scrolls in both English and Aramaic (attempted to, that is, at uni), and to me what made them a bit of a cult was the emphasis on physical cleanliness as a road to salvation, almost. There are so many Ďversesí on washing and how washing cleans the soul, that made it seem very cultish to me going purely by DSS, but youíre right that no one really knows enough. I think they are a Ďsectí in the sense that they broke off traditional Judaism and probably pretty much coexisted with nascent Christianity, but in terms of rituals etc., they do seem like a cult to me. The distinction is probably impossible to establish/agree on anyway, so I guess itís not a useful one.

Very true re: Wicker Man. I always thought that film was secretly designed to diss Christianity and did a pretty good job at that.



minds his own damn business
Always a huge pleasure to talk to experts on this.
Well, I appreciate that. I was wondering where your theological degree landed on the subject, and whether you'd find offence (not intentional).


I think there are certain parallels to draw with more modern day cults, with the purity (asceticism) and the apocalypticism of the day, which are integral symptoms of what we modernly consider "cultish".



Very true re: Wicker Man. I always thought that film was secretly designed to diss Christianity and did a pretty good job at that.
It's interesting that you feel that way, because I always felt that, rather than diss, the film parallels the pagan rituals with the Christian (crucifixtion) in a way that directly ties the latter to the former.



Well, I appreciate that. I was wondering where your theological degree landed on the subject, and whether you'd find offence (not intentional).
Look, I know I often come off as aggressive and so forth, but I am generally (would you believe it!) a fairly reasonable human being. I specialised in postmodern theology, brought metafiction into my dissertation (argued for a metafictional reading of Scripture, essentially), so had moved away from early Christianity and studying apocryphal writings. It was a shame, actually.

So the Essenes werenít my focus at all, Iíve done about 1.5 years of research on them, all in all, it evolved from studying Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, and though Iíve remained invested and kept reading, thereís only so much you can find out about them in this disorganised way. When I was in Israel just before Covid (heh), I visited the caves and their sacred spots around the Dead Sea. Absolutely fascinating. I was lucky to have done it, given where we are now and whatís going on in the region.

It's interesting that you feel that way, because I always felt that, rather than diss, the film parallels the pagan rituals with the Christian (crucifixtion) in a way that directly ties the latter to the former.
True. I think I mean it in a purely teleological sense, you know. He did get utterly screwed over, and itís left ambiguous (to me, that is) whether he will be Ďsavedí in any way. I actually always see the ending as a desperate kind of moment where he might even be wondering if heís wrong.

I canít explain why I feel that way. But thatís at the heart of early Christian persecution, right? Will you denounce it when youíre burning at the stake? I think thereís something in his eyes that suggests he regrets the whole Crusade.

If I had to pinpoint where I think that comes through, itís the fact he curses the islanders after reciting the psalm, Iím not sure a martyr whoís not doubting would do that.

Either way, there is certainly a parallel, but I think the film shows the pagans as utterly self-sufficient, able guys who manage just fine without such self-appointed Crusaders such as Sergeant Howie.



Red State
2011, Kevin Smith

__________________
"Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone. It bosses the enzymes, directs the pineal gland, plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to Film is more Film." - Frank Capra



Red State
2011, Kevin Smith

Thatís much, much closer to what Iím looking for. Not high art, for sure, but a great film. Didnít really address the philosophy, but I guess Iím coming to terms with the fact those are going to be few and far between, provided they exist at all. Btw, I had no idea Kevin Smith directed this.