AfterEarthPoster

“After Earth” poster courtesy Wikipedia (http://bit.ly/10M809i)

The news is not good for the new movie “After Earth,” which means the news is not good for Sony Pictures, or Will Smith … or, it seems, Scientology, whose sci-fi inflected religious system inspired what was to be a summer blockbuster. Now it’s looking like a summer bust.

As the NYTimes reports, “After Earth” took in 18 percent less than the lowest of prerelease expectations and may have ended Smith’s reputation as a surefire action-adventure box office draw — not to mention hurting the budding career of son Jaden, his co-star. Oh, and how much further off track could M. Night Shyamalan’s career go? He used to pose big questions in intriguing ways, but he directed and co-wrote this movie, yet another flop for him.

The movie has been ripped in reviews, and may well add to the narrative of decline and crisis that has been surrounding Scientology: an exodus of members, tell-all books, lawsuits, celebrity scandals. Well, maybe Scientology IS like a real religion after all.

But the main difference may be that Scientology just isn’t watchable. “After Earth” appears destined to join John Travolta’s 2000 film “Battlefield Earth,” which aimed to introduce Scientology’s unusual cosmology to the public, as among the Worst Movies Ever.

This is ironic given the Hollywood DNA in Scientology’s genome — it draws celebrities like moths to a flame. It’s also odd in that biblically-based dramas — like the eponymously-named History Channel series, “The Bible,” are going gangbusters and spurring copycats.

Could it be that Scientology itself is the problem? Religions succeed in part because they tell a convincing story that undergirds the eternal truths they preach. Maybe Scientology doesn’t have such a coherent story, or one that is so easily told. Even “The Master,” the 2012 Paul Thomas Anderson drama that gives a fictionalized account of the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) got raves (and Oscar nominations) for acting and direction but still puzzled critics who weren’t sure what it was about.

Apropos, Ex-Scientologist Marc Headly explains some of the Scientology motifs in “After Earth,” including the display of “Robotic Emotions”:

Will Smith’s character is pretty much devoid of all emotions for the entire movie. While this may be part of his character or something that was directed in the script, in Scientology, one goes through great amounts of training and counseling to control one’s emotions and “mis-emotion,” as described by Hubbard. Anyone who has done even the smallest amount of Scientology training will recall sitting and staring at a person for hours on end without being allowed to blink, smile or turn one’s head. Will Smith pretty much masters that for the entirety of this movie.

Yeah, that’s not a formula for cinematic success, really.

What also may hurt the cause is how cagey Scientology’s adherents can be about Scientology. Tom Cruise got got out on video explaining the religion, but normally the religion imposes strict rules on confidentiality. “The first rule of Scientology is you don’t talk about Scientology.”

Hence this passage from Will and Jaden Smith’s two-handed interview with New York Magazine:

Q: I’ve read that you believe life can be understood through patterns.

Will: I’m a student of patterns. At heart, I’m a physicist. I look at everything in my life as trying to find the single equation, the theory of everything.

Q: Do you think there is a single theory to everything?

Jaden: There’s definitely a theory to everything.

Will: When you find things that are tried and true for millennia, you can bet that it’s going to happen tomorrow.

Jaden: The sun coming up?

Will: The sun coming up, but even a little more. Like for Best Actor Oscars. Almost 90 percent of the time, it’s mental illness and historical figures, right? So, you can be pretty certain of that if you want to win—as a man; it’s very different for women. The patterns are all over the place, but for whatever reason, it’s really difficult to find the patterns in Best Actress.

Q: Do you see patterns too, Jaden?

Jaden: I think that there is that special equation for everything, but I don’t think our mathematics have evolved enough for us to even—I think there’s, like, a whole new mathematics that we’d have to learn to get that equation.

Will: I agree with that.

Jaden: It’s beyond mathematical. It’s, like, multidimensional mathematical, if you can sort of understand what I’m saying.

Q: Are both of you religious?

Will: No, we are students of world religion.

Maybe they need to study some more before their next film?

 

29 Comments

  1. Sir, I don’t fully understand the premise of your article. Its written as if you or any of the other media outlets covering ‘After Earth’ know with certainty that the film is indeed about Scientology. How can you know that? As a journalist, have you first asked the studio about this before writing an assertion as fact. As a theology major, I have been tracking this over the last several days and since there has been no confirmation from the studio, director, Will Smith or Scientology that the film is about Scientology, I have to conclude that this really, beneath the surface, is about people finding a reason to dogpile on a religion, which in this case, happens to be Scientology and that, is not called a “movie”, that is called religious bigotry and hypocrisy. As a theology major in 2013, I am fascinated to see over and over again throughout history, other religions, and people of other faiths, that have all gone through religious persecution early in their history, be amongst the first to dogpile on other or new religions. It is hyper-transparently hypocritical. How quickly we forget: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

    • I tend to agree. I have not seen the ,movie–but just because it states one has to confront one’s fears does not make it a religious movie. Nor that it has a volcano, think Lord of the Rings or Joe and the Volcano.

      Then you quote the Scientology Judas as the source for your story.

    • As a “theology major” you should know not to “misquote” scripture. You and all who worship at the church of “tolerance” always forget it is a work of mercy to point out error. You also forget the most important lesson was not to judge the state of ones soul. We don’t know where someone will reside at the end. That is for God to know. But, it is very charitable to point out error especially, if in the pointing out of the error, the soul in error turns to the narrow path and away from the wide road.

    • @Ian—-the operative word being “religion”, which scientology is NOT. Try taking a gander at James R. Lewis’s excellent book, “Cults: A Reference Handbook” (2005).
      It may help you understand the difference between the two. I have done many scientology courses at CCINT, Hollywood, and read dozens of Hubbard’s books on scientology, including “Dianetics: the modern science of mental health” The title alone should inform you as to what Hubbard really aspired to be; a modern mental health guru. Big difference from religion. After the psychiatric and mental health practitioner community kicked this book to the curb, Hubbard re-tooled his fiction as religion, and commenced his war on Psychiatry and modern medicine that would last til his death. I suggest you read “Dianetics ” as well. I opine that Mr. Hubbard’s writings alone were his own worst advertisement. Lacking in any scientific studies or tests, footnotes, or peer-reviews, it’s easy to understand why his writings have been so utterly dismissed by the scientific and medical community. Hence, as I said, his departure for the much more nebulous cloak of religion. No dogpiling here, nope. Anything negative that scientology “pulls in” (a scientology term) is more than well-deserved. And don’t even get me started on their policies of Family Disconnection (personal experience here on that) and “Fair-gaming” (google it!). Again, this is no religion.
      By the way, what college are you studying for your Theology degree at?

  2. Mr Headly knows what he is looking at, as the magazine paid him as an expert, and if he can’t find the tell tale signs of it -walking like a Scientology duck etc (other than starry looks), then it isn’t Scientology themed movie.

  3. Fan fiction is usually terrible. Regardless of the historical or philosophical merits of a religion, or how exciting the plot or appealing the characters of its scriptures, at least 90% of its movie appearances will either be awful fan fiction or be scripted by people with no real familiarity with the religion.

    So the real problem is probably as much the fault of bad writers as with the basic premise. After all, there is plenty of evidence that inherent silliness or lack of coherence is no obstacle to a blockbuster movie. Just look how popular movies based on comic book characters are now.

  4. Nemo from Erehwon

    A quick Goole of “Scientology After Earth” ill show that, at the very least, the connection between the cult and the film is not just something Gibson made up, but has been widely discussed.

  5. Undoubtedly, since Smith seems to know quite a bit about Scientology, various memes from Scientology could have appeared in the movie, but I would not say that the movie is about ideas distinctive or unique to Scientology. Headly wrote: “Will Smith’s character is pretty much devoid of all emotions for the entire movie. While this may be part of his character or something that was directed in the script, in Scientology, one goes through great amounts of training and counseling to control one’s emotions and “mis-emotion,” as described by Hubbard.”
    First of all, controlling one’s emotion is not the same as being devoid of emotion. Second, many spiritual practices aim at gaining a healthy distance and control of emotion that would otherwise run amuck and cause personal and interpersonal debility. Third, Smith’s character is depicted as someone who took his control of emotion too far, into actual ‘avoidance’ of emotion even when not on the battlefield; Smith’s wife and kids — especially the wife — are portrayed as having an approach to emotions that provides a needed balance, living their emotions without avoidance.

  6. I have to agree that Gibson makes some rather large assumptions about this movie without adequately providing evidence. Perhaps the reason the movie flopped is because movie-goers are suffering from SFF (Smith Family Fatigue).

  7. It is sad that Will Smith is promoting Scientology and giving money to schools that use L Ron Hubbard’s (a science fiction writer who had no teaching credentials or experience teaching kids) so called “Study Tech” which is just complete rubbish that LRH pulled out of his own butt. Will and Jada should be more responsible and to the proper research on L Ron Hubbard. If they did said research they would discover that LRH was a habitual lying, criminal con-artist, who took the same drugs that he preached against (benzodiazepines were in his system when he dies according to his autopsy report) and who only started his fake religion to make himself as much money as possible.

    Shame on you Will and Jada!!!!!

  8. Movies featuring volcanoes include Journey to the Center of the Earth, You Only Live Twice, The Land That Time Forgot, Under the Volcano, The Land Before Time, Superman the Quest for Peace, Joe vs. the Volcano, Dante’s Peak, Volcano, Deep Core, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek Into Darkness, Despicable Me 2 and many more on television.

    After Earth is at $240,000,000 worldwide so clearly someone’s watching it and forming educated opinions about it.

    Religious bigotry and ignorance go hand-in-hand.

    Also, Will Smith is on record stating that he is a Christian. For you to spread rumors and false information about his religious beliefs is approaching slander.

    Your ignorance is no excuse for evil behavior.

    • @Donella: first off, Ms. scientology troll, the main problem here lies on the fact that scientology is no religion, only a “modern science of mental health” wanna-be. See my reply to Ian above. Secondly, your understanding of basic law is more than a little wanting. Spreading rumours and false information about someone’s “religious” beliefs is nowhere close to “approaching slander”. Especially when said person funds a school that uses lrh study tech, or uses scieno terminology in interviews, or repeatedly makes donations to scientology businesses (WLF, ABLE, CCINT).
      So how does Jonathan’s comments come anywhere near “evil behavior”? The ignorance YOU display is no reason to go off on a nasty little rant. And if you REALLY still believe in scientology after going through the “wall of fire” and OTIii, then YOU, my friend, are whole -heartedly guzzling down the Kool-aid while admiring the emperor’s clothing. And you really think that’s religion? Not on your life, sister. Not on your life.

  9. Tom Cruise is known to be rather litigious, isn’t he? That’s why this Scientology speculation is about Will Smith [who has stated that he is a Christian] and After Earth rather than Tom Cruise’s Oblivion. Something about a cease and desist letter really kills creative blogging, doesn’t it?

    • @donnella (again) rolling my eyes up so far I think I can see my own brain. Bring on the cease and desist letters. Tom Cruise would have no time to make a single movie if he had to search out all the negative blogging on him from the past or present.
      Your smirking sarcasm is pointless and ineffective —unless, of course, you’re just doing your job duty. In that case, allow me to validate your performance as a good sheep!

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