“Nobody joins a cult. Nobody joins something they believe is going to hurt them.” So attests a member of the most horrific cult in living memory at the beginning of the haunting (and terrifying) documentary Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (April 9 on PBS). On November 18, 1978, the bodies of more than 900 members of Peoples Temple were discovered after famously ingesting cyanide-laced Flavor Aid in Jonestown, Guyana, in the largest mass-suicide-murder in history.
The film looks at the events leading up to the date: the rise of the San Francisco–based Peoples Temple and the complicated persona of founder Jim Jones. Former members who survived Jonestown help explain the group’s original allure. What remains most heartbreaking is the footage of smiling, true-believing members and their children; it redoubles our fervent skepticism of fervent ad hoc faith.
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