This is truly a case where real life is more chilling than anything Stephen King, Wes Craven, or George Romero could ever come up. The documentary “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple” provides the horrifying details behind a 70’s religious phenomenon that makes the mass suicide of the Hale-Bopp comet cult seem like a children’s tea party.
Jonestown was a commune in the South American nation of Guyana formed by the People’s Church, a religious organization from San Francisco, and its charismatic leader Jim Jones.
By the time it was all over, a U.S. Congressman was dead and most of the more than 900 men, women, and children who lived in the Jonestown commune in South America drank poisoned kool-aid at the direction of Jones in 1978.
This film just doesn’t give this story the True Hollywood Story treatment with the usual round of professors, biographers, and cultural critics. This features people who were actually there when their friends, relatives, and even their own wives and children were taking the last sip of their lives.
And in some cases the parents themselves squirted the poison into their own children’s mouths.
Although people who grew up with him describe Jim Jones as a “little off” he emerges as a charismatic man with a message that gave a whole segment of the population what they weren’t getting from organized religion- Acceptance and forgiveness for all regardless of race, creed or color. The documentary chronicles the church’s early days as a social movement from its earliest days to the peak of its popularity as an activist organization in city politics in San Francisco.
But through interviews, archival footage, and audio tapes, Jones personal peccadilloes and warped messages begin to emerge.
He is depicted as a sexual predator who twisted messages to suit his own tastes.
And he took whatever woman he liked whether they liked it or not.
And in at least one instance, it alleges Jones was bisexual.
It’s easy to see the People’s Church founder Jim Jones as a madman who led his followers like lemmings to die in the jungles of Guyana.
But this film gives the viewer an insight into why anyone would have followed him in the first place.