Friday, November 14, 2014

Benjamin E. Zeller's "Heaven's Gate: America's UFO Religion"

Benjamin E. Zeller is Assistant Professor of Religion at Lake Forest College.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Heaven's Gate: America's UFO Religion:
Heaven’s Gate is really a story about its founders and how they developed a deep spiritual partnership that led them to eventually form their own monastic religious community. Its founders, Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles, were described as having a sense of innate charisma, a sort of intense otherworldliness.

Members and ex-members alike described Herff (as he was called by his friends) as having a magnetic personality and being able to form immediate connections with people. Some said he possessed hypnotic or telepathic abilities. He was also tall, somewhat lanky, and had a caring and fatherly face. I would cast Ed Harris in the role. Remember Harris’s role in The Truman Show as the director Christof, the mastermind behind the operation? That was Herff in Heaven’s Gate.

His spiritual partner Bonnie was described as maternal and caring, but also as a powerful presence who served as sort of mental and spiritual battery for Herff, and then for the group. Ex-members and members have said that she was the center of Heaven’s Gate during her lifetime (she died in 1985). When she walked into a room, people saw in her a sense of quiet power. My choice to play her? Kathy Bates. She possesses the sort of gravitas needed to play Bonnie.

I weave a few other individuals in and out of my narrative as I describe the rise and fall of Heaven’s Gate. Jmmody (his name inside the group) is one of these individuals. He was smart but a bit of a goofball. I would have wanted the late Harold Ramis to play him. Heaven’s Gate wasn’t just a monastic religious community, it was a family. Ex-members have told me that life inside the group was intense but fun at the same time. They were on a collective spiritual journey. Ramis could have captured that.
Learn more about Heaven's Gate at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue