review of movies about intentional communities and communes

I did it. I googled movies about communes and intentional communities and I watched them all. Bad news, none are very accurate but many are entertaining. The good news is, that as a filmmaker, this gives me the opportunity to make the movie that knows the reality! (Or at  least the director would have an accurate background – me)

Wanderlust (2012) stars Paul Rudd and Jennifer Anniston and it’s very cute. They get a few things right like calling it an intentional community and not a commune and poke fun at that. They also have the members roll their eyes when the founder tells the same story again and again. Yet it veers more to cults (like most movies about communes do) and even says “I drank the kool aid.”  As a movie, it is a lot of fun.

The Commune (2016). I just saw that this has some truth that the filmmaker lived in one as a kid but technically the Danish word is collective or cooperative and they all live in one house, but it is set in the 60s so that’s about accurate for the time.

I love how they barely started their community and they get tested right away. That is super true!  It is a good look at meetings and people dealing with all sorts of bumps. I love the Danish casual culture to accept things like affairs and death, so less judgemental and fearful than us in the US.  Well done and entertaining.

Together is a 2000 Swedish film and it’s wonderful. Great pace. Again, one house with a bunch of people living together intentionally. Set in the 70s. There are many funny scenes of political differences and who cleans up the house. They touch on loneliness and romance more than actual  commune life. It shows more the end of the community and being replaced by other type of friendships and bonds. Fun to watch no matter what!  As far as commune movies, this would be my favorite.

The Sacrament (2013), a found footage horror based on the Jonestown tragedy. It starts with a sister going for rehab from addiction then she finds god and community. It’s like Blair Witch leaves Maryland and goes to the tropics to build lodgings and form a cult.   Can be tense, bloody, and, well, it’s a horror film. It slips from commune to cult but that can really happen. 

Hideous Kinky(1998) is a memoir based on the childhood of Freud’s granddaughter. Her mother is a hippie traveling single mom and ends up with other hippies in Morocco.  Shows the hippie life and unstable existence of her mom but not really an established intentional community.  Very interesting and entertaining. I must admit, I love Kate Winslet’s performance in everything!

There is a movie called Postal that comes up but it’s not available yet. Who knows why?

Mister Lonely is a strange idea – a commune in Europe filled with celebrity impersonators.  Less community living than an exploration of these characters and the beauty of the area.  The filmmaker chooses dark themes.  Deals more with animal husbandry and polyamory by choice or not, practicing tai chi ,and building a stage and performing shows. I also love the actor Diego Luna and he looks just like Micheal Jackson in this.The fascinating thing is the actors and filmmakers lived in the castle while filming and some stayed in character. Now that would have been an interesting documentary to watch!

Flashback (1990) with Dennis Hopper and Keith Sutherland. Never heard of it but a road trip movie story (I prefer Midnight Run with Robert De Niro from the same time period).The commune part is a bit of a spoiler but I”ll say it has to do with a flashback. Now the commune is defunct  when they visit.  The movie is a bunch of stereotypes remembering the 60s but lots of cute Easter Eggs to Easy Rider which Hopper directed, and even to Rebel Without a Cause which he acted in also.

Forever . I love one of the actors but in general this movie doesn’t make a lot of sense. You are very disoriented at the start and barely figure out how all these people came to live together and never really find out why. It is a cult without a cause.  They all seem happy to live together and laugh even at the fights but we don’t know what they believe and why they all followed a doctor there to this house – it was even unclear if they just eat there and then have their own places or what?  Nothing is clear in this film but great actors and had enough budget to not be super low budget. Sad and not an uplifting story at all though it does seem to ask about grief and hope.

Go Getter – It only has a few minutes at a commune that makes pottery. Great actors again but more of a road movie as the main character is looking for his brother and following his footsteps.  Not my cup of tea and didn’t do well or get many great reviews.

That’s my summary. Please let me know if you find more and I’ll make some!

About CJ

I was a Spanish teacher for 5 years in the Public School system in 3 different states. I homeschooled and taught at a democratic free school. I heard about cohousing in 2010 and wanted to move in right away. I met a group building one in 2018 and got to move in the summer of 2019. It only took a year to want out.
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10 Responses to review of movies about intentional communities and communes

  1. Flower says:

    Here’s more to add to that list: Martha Marcy May Marlene is a 2011 film written and directed by Sean Durkin. It’s billed as a thriller and stars Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, and Hugh Dancy. The plot is about a young woman suffering from delusions and paranoia after returning to her family from an abusive cult in the Catskill Mountains.

    While researching, Durkin became fascinated by how someone gets into the farm or commune or group, and made a short film of the name Mary Last Seen about it.

    Holy Smoke! is a 1999 independent film directed by Jane Campion starring Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel. Keitel’s character attempts to deprogram Winslet who has been indoctrinated into a new age cult in India.

  2. Flower says:

    While researching info on cohousing I found an article on OregonLive. I found the comment section far more interesting than the article. The article was another fluff piece extolling the benefits as if problems don’t exist, which I find misleading. I noticed that when a less than positive comment is made there’s usually a response and I recall someone wrote, “Haven’t you heard of sharing,” which is another alleged “benefit” that is highly touted in articles. The comment section has been deleted, like most newspapers and magazines.

    I found it interesting because I’ve studied cults for years. In the comment section, someone made reference to a cult that I’d never heard of. It was called Rajneeshpuram and was a religious intentional community in Wasco County, Oregon. It was Incorporated as a city between 1981 and 1988, and its population consisted entirely of Rajneeshees, followers of the controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho. Its citizens and leaders were responsible for launching the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attacks, as well as the planned 1985 Rajneeshee assassination plot, in which they conspired to assassinate Charles Turner, the United States Attorney for the District of Oregon. Wild Wild Country is a Netflix documentary about it, although I’ve never seen it. Eventually I get around to it.

  3. Flower says:

    And here’s one more for your list, which I haven’t seen either. It’s also a documentary called, Far Out West: Inside California’s Kerista Commune. They shared sex, love and parenting and sold Apple computers. Apparently former members are still debating whether they were a “cult” in disguise.

    If you find the topic interesting there’s a lot of info about the hippie communes and the counter culture of the 60’s and 70’s. Most failed, although some remain and according to one article which states that the US has a storied history of communal living attempts. It also said that they are being reborn today as “intentional living”. There’s a ton more once you start digging for info.

  4. CJ says:

    Thanks – I never heard of these. Kate Winslet was in the bio movie of the commune in Morocco. I’m going to start posting about cults. I’ve learned so much this year after being part of a toxic group. Some intentional communes do become cults or cult like, esp. if they bend towards the will of a narcissistic personality.

    • Flower says:

      There’s a lot of info and articles about narcissists too. The current research suggests that it has actually increased and is far more prevalent in millennials. Narcissists and manipulative types of people are attracted to group settings. I notice a lot of marketing of co-housing tends to allege that isolation is a problem in suburbs and single family housing. Being a part of group and exposed to group think can be very isolating and groups can be toxic. I don’t think there is anything wrong with individualism. You can be part of society and culture as well as being an individual. The subject of isolation is complex as is individualism. The articles I read about cohousing treat both subjects in a superficial way slanting it towards cohousing as a solution. Maybe for a select and small group of people it is, but for others it could feel isolating, conformist and oppressive.

  5. CJ says:

    I’m also going to write another movie/TV show review of commune movies but it’s a spoof on Wild Country. I did see that documentary years ago before I lived in an Intentional Community. I should watch it now with a different perspective. But the comedy show Documentary Now does a hilarious episode parodying them – I”m almost done with the whole series and then I will add a post. And there are lots of books on the history of communities in the US. It’s interesting but I see the same theme – it hardly works. Maybe we are too individualistic or community living seems romantic but the realities are not that fun.

    • Flower says:

      Thanks for letting me know about Documentary Now. I watched a few clips on Youtube. They were hysterical. Humor is good medicine. They call them mockumentaries too. Then I started watching Portlandia because it populated on suggested videos. SNL has some good spoofs on “New Agers”.

      Perspective changes with lived experience. I think it a healthy step to revisit and re-evaluate and that goes against the grain of the positivity police, although it is a necessary step in healing. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts if you watch it again to see if you pick up anything new, since your perspective has changed.

      I know there are a lot of books and there are articles too, because I have been researching for a long time. Sometimes articles pop up in unexpected places. I was always interested in growing up hippie–the children’s perspectives. It’s not always positive which is the opposite of how it’s usually portrayed. That reminds me of a trip to Taos. I was reading a short bio of an artist and their roots in the community. They grew up in a local commune and their father apparently had a following. It sounded like the parents split up. She made her childhood sound idealized, which is not a universal experience. However it was one of the few times I saw someone mention that despite their ideal experience that growing up in a commune “wild and free” was not idyllic for others. It was basically summarized in less than one sentence. At least she acknowledged that it wasn’t a positive experience for other people. I get really tired of how people try to squash a dissenting opinion or experience.

  6. CJ says:

    I think I put a post about some of the books out there from the hippy children. There is a dark side of neglect and even sexual abuse, luckily not for everyone but some children experienced that. I think one book was called Wild Child and another is something like News from the Nethers. I will have to watch that documentary again on that cult in Oregon but the Documentary Now version was hilarious. Laughter is always healing.

  7. Flower says:

    Another film is The Master. It is a drama about the obsession of cult groups which try to answer life’s riddles for troubled people. Joaquin Phoenix, plays a misfit drifter, who falls under the spell of a cult leader played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The group and its leader appear very loosely inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. I haven’t seen the film, but it may be a good one to add to your list.

  8. CJ says:

    I think I did see that – after living in coho. It was depressing!

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