An Intro to Research:
My initial interest for our final project was centered around snuff porn/dying online, but researching this proved to be difficult (and risky). During my meeting with Scott, I proposed a possible explanation that would focus on the gradual shift of daily activities/hobbies from contemporary life to cyberspace. To put it more simply, the changes in human recreation from offline to online. I’m curious about this idea of taking our ideas, affairs, interests and forms of self-expression, and putting them in some kind of recorded form online. Whether it’s a means for organization, documentation, conformity, or driven by feelings of longing, I really think there’s something here to be studied. I originally organized my work so that I’d be looking into online religious affiliations, gaming centers, and parental surveillance, but ended up just narrowing down to online religion and specifically, technological apotheosis. From what I’ve gathered so far, I’ve analyzed Heaven’s Gate and their still running website, and will be talking about Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, and an episode from the web series “High Maintenance” (which is REALLY good, Professor Richmond recommended it) titled Qasim, in which a character prepares for apotheosis. Each of these sources implements uses of technology to explore apotheosis, whether it be self-apotheosis, group-apotheosis to reach a human ideal, or promises of apotheosis to promote a certain ideology or even product (in this case, things such as written texts that can be purchased online).
Apotheosis, also known as divination or deification, refers to this kind of idea that an individual can be raised to a perfect form. In theology, apotheosis alludes to an elevation of individuals to a divine or godlike status.
The Master: “The Cause” and Apotheosis
The Master (2012), directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is a film that was partly inspired by the founder of Scientology, L. Ron. Hubbard. His character is well played by actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, and is given the name “Lancaster Dodd” as the film follows his relationship with WWII veteran, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). This post will explore the film’s use of technology in relation to both Quell’s lifestyle, along with the merging of 1950’s technology with a developing practice of Scientology, in order to reach a certain collective state of apotheosis.
The film’s opening gives a perverse impression of Quell, who (stationed in some tropical area with several dozens of other soldiers) is clearly disconnected from the groups of men that surround him. He sits outside of their circle, violently chopping coconuts and wondering what it would be like to slice open his own hand. The men build a kind of sandcastle in the form of a woman, as Quell gets down on the ground and grotesquely pretends to have sex with it. This earns obligatory laughs from several of Quell’s comrades, but his charade lasts for far too long as their smiles turn into frowns of disgust. It’s clear that Freddy Quell is not only sex-obsessed, but displaced.
After returning home, Quell (who suffers from PTSD) takes up a job that I thought was quite interesting. As a photographer (shown below),
Quell’s association with technology is noteworthy. When we first see him working, he’s pleasant. As the camera focuses on his clients, smiling in anticipation of each photograph, we can hear Quell giving compliments and instructions before he’s shown grinning and snapping each picture. He looks secure here; even happy. While he’s not directly interacting with other human beings, the camera acts as an extension of himself in which he is not only able to provide a service, but is able to gaze freely. However, upon second exhibition of Quell’s work-life, he’s completely different. After drunkenly assaulting a male client who was posing for a photo, Quell flees his workspace and finds work on a farm (a job that he also loses quite quickly after poisoning an elderly migrant worker with homemade moonshine).
When Quell finally meets Lancaster Dodd (the character based off of L. Ron Hubbard), it’s because he’s been sought out as a stowaway on Dodd’s yacht. Instead of removing him from his boat, Donn keeps Quell on board, taken with the alcoholic concoction that was found on Freddie’s person upon discovery (a drink made with paint thinner). It’s here that “The Cause” comes to light, which is the title of Dodd’s following. This is also when the idea of apotheosis is incorporated into the film’s plot.
Pointing to her stomach, a pregnant Peggy — the wife of Dodd, played by Amy Adams — turns to Quell during a psychological exercise that’s being performed on one of the members of “The Cause” and says “Do you understand what’s happening? We record everything. Through all lifetimes.” It’s here that the tone of the film shifts, and viewers understand that “The Cause” captures aspects of denominational faith, centered around a specific means for eternal life in order to reach a certain apotheosis. In the next shot, Quell sits at a table with five other members of Dodd’s clan, who all wear headphones and listen to pre-recorded lectures created by Dodd himself. Quell puts a pair on, and we hear Dodd’s voice say “Man….is not an animal. We are not a part of the animal kingdom. We sit far above that crowd, perched as spirits; not beasts.” A use of technology in order to promote ideology about becoming connected with the spirit is established here; a means of apotheosis that Dodd believes in. The members listen intently, smiling at Quell and taking notes. And this is where the most exemplary line occurs, as Dodd’s recording continues with:
“You are not ruled by your emotions. It is not only possible, it is easily achievable that we do away with all negative emotional impulses and bring man back to its inherent state of perfect.” (33:45)
Here’s a shot from the scene, Quell is the only character not yet wearing headphones:
Dodd also records individual sessions with members, which he refers to as “Processing”. Unsettling psychological questions are asked of Quell during these recorded sittings, including “Have you ever had intercourse with someone inside your family?” and “Have you killed anyone?” in order to allow Quell to confront some of the things in his life that make him imperfect. This scene is quite difficult to watch, given Quell’s reveal of a sexual history with his aunt, his erratic outbursts and cries that eventually subside into a moment of clarity. Whether or not these sessions of “Processing” are genuine and effective is cryptic, however the ending shot for this scene is particularly gripping in the sense that a certain release has happened, allowing the two to indulge in booze and cigarettes.
Dodd’s profession as a writer is quite significant in his beliefs about apotheosis as well, often locking himself up for hours and typing his own theories, attempting to turn them into print. In the film, he has one published book titled “The Cause”, and spends much of his time processing ideas for a new novel. In numbers, his group is quite small, and it does grow throughout the film, much as Scientology eventually did. However, it’s through these technological recordings and documented writings that his theories about apotheosis reach individuals, thus increasing membership within “The Cause” significantly. The idea that man can be returned to its original state of perfection (much like apotheosis) is his main concern.