What exactly is a cult? How is it defined and who determines what is cultish behavior and what is simply an organized religion? After all by definition isn’t it simply a group of people with a devotion to a religion or a set of religious beliefs? Now who established this religion? Who created these beliefs that these people are devoted to? Was it a group of people, was it just one person or was it an amalgamation of the two? Now who is this person that started it all? These are just some basic questions regarding cults and the documentary The Source Family sheds light on one such cult and attempts to answer some of those salient questions.
In the late sixties and early seventies one of the most popular and recognizable “cults” in the city of Los Angeles was the Source Family. Spearheaded by Jim Baker, known to his family as Father, Yod, Yahowha and at one point God, this commune by all appearances seemed to be a benevolent group of hippies. Make peace not war, etc. In fact they were instrumental in starting the health food craze that permeates the Los Angeles culture nowadays. Baker was a man who served in the military and had a record that included manslaughter. Charismatic and fatherly-like, Father brought numerous young, disillusioned, lost sheep into his fold. He was like a new age rock star that spoke to the youth culture at the time. His people followed him, loved him and were devoted to his ideals. However as the years pass and Father begins to do things that are contradictory to the established commandments cracks begin to form that raises doubts amongst the flock.
Demopoulus and Wille’s film is a fascinating look into the origins of a cult, what the people involved do and what sort of impact did it have on its followers in the long term. It’s very interesting seeing how a seemingly ordinary guy suddenly becomes the leader of a religious movement. However where the film’s real problem lies is that it doesn’t really address the elephant in the room. Was this guy a charlatan and were these people bamboozled into following him? Certainly people can be entranced by someone’s charisma, what they say or how they make one feel but does that person know they are for lack of a better word being “brainwashed?” The Source Family felt and looked like a genuine cult whose sole purpose was the betterment of man but once push came to shove it looked otherwise. As is it’s a sincere and interesting look at the origins of the Source Family and as a historical document it is truly engaging. However it needed that extra nudge to make it more well rounded.
This is a well made documentary that really gives you a good idea of the hippie culture and how the youth of that era could come under the spell of gurus such as this. Featuring some great candid interviews with former worshippers and first hand footage from within the family it paints an interesting picture that to outsiders seems odd but to them it was far from it. It’s never judgmental of the subject matter or the people involved but it certainly could have used a bit of the devil’s advocate. Either way it’s an eye-opening look into a piece of history that most people have never seen.