Netflix’s Wild, Wild Country tells a story that’s almost unbelievable. In what can only be described as one of the most bizarre and convoluted happenings in United States history, Documentarian brothers Chapman and Maclain Way tell us the tale of Antelope, Oregon—a town which in the 1980’s was overrun by sex-crazed cultists who would come to threaten not only the townspeople’s values, but the American way of life.
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In the first few scenes, it’s established that the town of Antelope (today governed by a man somewhat resemblant of a walrus in overalls, Mayor John Silvertooth) was once remembered as place of good ol’ fashioned American livin’.
“The town of antelope, it’s definitely quiet” drawls one rancher as old photos and grainy videos cut with the sounds of tiptoe Netflix violins appear—all of that good shit one expects to see at the beginning of a cult-doco with potential.
In one of the opening interviews, Mayor Silvertooth recalls a man – not an American “cos he was in leather shoes, the fancy kind”—who prophesied the coming of ‘them’, in a surreal conversation that took place on the streets of Antelope back in 1980. Soon after, a small article appeared in the local rag revealing that a Guru with a predilection for Rolls Royces had bought the local Big Muddy Ranch. With him, the town of Antelope were told to expect droves of his red and orange clad followers—although, nobody paid attention to this “crazy” notion.
To everyone’s surprise the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, spiritual guru and leader of one of the world’s most notorious sex cults does arrive—in tow his fanta-coloured followers and enough infrastructure to build his own town. And build a town they do—later, the ‘ranch’ will be legally recognised as the town of Rajneeshpuram with its very own mayor, police force and militia.
First-hand accounts from the town locals are bolstered by interviews with not only former cult-members, but one of the Bhagwan’s closest confidants—his personal secretary and a likely sociopath—Ms Ma Anand Sheela. Throughout the episodes, Sheela remains loyal to the Bhagwan and even manages to believably defend her various crimes that have found her exiled in Switzerland.
“With every crown comes the guillotine” Sheela says darkly in one scene, while the sound of thunder crashes and her grey head hangs low—it’s here that the Way brothers prove to us that a good bit of theatre does not go astray in the process of impartial storytelling.
And this story is one that, even told impartially, is completely insane. The doco covers the Rajneeshees arrival and the utter chaos that ensued — a town-poisoning, immigration fraud, attempted murder, voter fraud, countless acts of terror and even a kinda-scary, kinda-funny hysterical shouting-orgy.
By the end of episode one you’re totally absorbed, sucked into a surreal world of militant hippies and god-fearing, wholesome Americans whose values and practices clash at every turn. You’ll see the Bhagwan evangelising to the tune of Medusa’s ‘Think Harder’, like a religious Sid Vicious he is totally engaging and a presented to be an intelligent, well-spoken and zero-fucks given kinda guy—here’s a man preaching hedonism and open sexual relationships during the satanic panic ridden United States of America, what’s not to like?
The series is peppered with archival footage from inside and outside the town of Rajneeshpuram and the Way brothers do an excellent job of conveying the mystery that shrouded the Rajneeshee from an outsider’s perspective. The other thing they do exceedingly well is make you feel conflicted, thanks to a coupling of eloquent and rational arguments made by those who lived inside Rajneeshpuram and some very real facts that damn them entirely.
On the one hand you have a group of people who have a passion for dressing in synchronicity, a collective of individuals disillusioned by a prude-America. They practice mindfulness, engage in tantric-sex acts and seem to be well educated on the whole – they just want to be accepted and left the hell alone—a point the former Rajneeshees interviewed bring up constantly. On the other, you see a country town scared of losing what’s theirs; I mean what were they supposed to think? A bunch of sexed up, free-loving hippies coming into their town and challenging the idea of normalcy, decency and christian values? No way.
The Way brothers being the masterful emotional manipulators they are, you’ll first bat for the Rajneeshee; they seemed harmless and right to be frustrated at the animosity being thrown their way—so what if their leader had taken a vow of silence after building up a collection 23 or so Rolls Royces and a net worth of $50,000,000? To each their own, you might say, the Bhagwan is up front about personal wealth from the get-go—a wise man need not be a poor one.
It’s when the Rajneeshee leaders begin to bring America’s homeless masses to their commune on buses in order to rig a local election and secure more seats on the town council, that your feelings toward the Bhagwan and his charismatic secretary will shift and you’ll begin to feel the plot thicken….
Wild, Wild Country is the ‘how the hell did I not know about this?’ documentary of 2018. The end-result of 4 years of extensive probing and some outstanding old-footage digging, the Way brothers should be commended for their efforts. You’ll spend your time watching feeling mixed, wondering where amongst all of the suspicion and outrage the truth really lies—was it the Rajneeshee who were backed into a corner by a bureaucratic government, or was the town of Antelope, nay the whole state of Oregon just doing what they felt was right?
The truth is, you’re going to have to make up your own mind – are you enlightened or benighted? A free spirit or traditionalist? Whichever side you choose, this incredible 6-part series asks some deeply provoking questions about why society is so fearful of those who walk a different path.
Wild, Wild, Country is out now on Netflix and is not to be missed.