Mark and Jay Duplass are a rare pair. Both brothers are successful actors, writers, directors, and producers. In a world where many people would readily hack off a limb to make it in just one of those fields, these two continue to kill it in all four. That’s talent, folks. Let’s talk about their latest venture.
Wild Wild Country
This six-episode series is a documentary. There are no reenacments—all footage used is legit. I have to get that out of the way mainly to convince myself that what I just watched is in fact real. A thought repeatedly floated in and out of my brain throughout the series: How could this have happened?
Wild Wild Country is about the infamous Bhagwan (also known as Rajneesh). Rajneesh was a mystic born in India during the 1930s. After earning a M.A. in Philosophy, Rajneesh became a lecturer and proceeded to rattle all the wrong cages. An outspoken critic of Mahatma Gandhi (yes, that Gandhi) and the institutionalization of Hinduism in India, Rajneesh’s teaching career didn’t last long.
That’s when Rajneesh founded his own religion—that’s when shit got wild.
Rajneesh’s religion came to be known as the Rajneeshi movement and he took the supreme clerical title of Bhagwan. The Rajneeshi movement was built on the principle of the “new man.” The new man was one considered to be “awake.” Bhagwan never claimed to be anyone special. In fact, he argued many times in his lectures that he was no one special at all. The only difference between Bhagwan and his followers was that he was awake and they were still asleep. Oh, and the Rajneeshis were also super sexually liberal and encouraged to express anger in violent outbursts literally called “explosions.”
After years of speaking out against the ruling party of India, socialism, and organized religion in general, Bhagwan made some powerful enemies in his home country. In 1981, he dispatched his second-in-command, Ma Anand Sheela, to the US to buy a large plot of land in the prairies of eastern Oregon. This 60,000-acre former ranch was named Rajneeshpuram. It was only a few months before Rajneeshpuram’s population grew exponentially and came into conflict with its sleepy neighbor, Antelope, Oregon, population: 95.
Without giving too much away, Rajneeshpuram was home to crimes such as the biggest bioterror attack and immigration fraud case in the history of the United States. Let that sink in for a minute. Bioterror attack. Mass immigration fraud. Biggest in history. That by itself should be enough to validate Wild Wild Country’s title, but it’s somehow only a fraction of the nutball shit that went on in Rajneeshpuram. Every episode of this series had me holding my head and asking myself “how could this have happened?”
I wish I was exaggerating.
A Descent Into Madness
The Duplass bros did a fantastic job telling the tale of Bhagwan and his followers. All the footage shot during the 70s and 80s comes from home movies or actual newscasts. Present-day interviews with former and current followers of the Rajneeshi movement add gravity and levity at the right moments and break up the trainwreck into satisfying bite-sized portions of insanity.
What I love most about Mark and Jay’s storytelling is the slow but satisfying transition of the Rajneeshis from a free-spirited yet persecuted religion to a sinister criminal network. It’s difficult to believe the settlement of Rajneeshpuram stood for four years given the near-constant shitstorms it brought down on itself.
If you’re looking for something stranger than fiction then this might be it. You can catch it on Netflix. Let me know what you think in the comments below or @matjauthor on Twitter!