It's so bizarre. On the command of their minister, nine hundred extremely happy people drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid and killed themselves and their children in group solidarity. The scale of this discombobulation is so huge that "to drink the Kool-Aid" is now shorthand for believing what the group says. But how could this happen? How could a black church lead by a white man build a model, indeed admirable, interracial commune in the jungle and then off themselves overnight? This very disturbing story is told in the words of members who survived. It's about the dark power of faith and hope. It's about cults and authoritarianism. It's about how evil slips away from good, so that good people become monsters. It almost explains the Nazis. It's a wrenching true film.
I find that the bonus deleted scenes on most DVDs are better off remaining deleted. But on Jonestown, some of the most telling interviews are inexplicably in the deleted-scene bin. I am thinking of the ones where the surviving members say, "If I had been there that day, there is no doubt in my mind that I too would have drunk the Kool-Aid," and then explain why. No student of the human condition should miss seeing this story. This film might even save us from some future despot.
Jonestown: The Life & Death of Peoples Temple
2006, 86 min.
Rent from Netflix
Available from Amazon