- Movie Rating -

Ticket to Heaven (1981)

| October 28, 1981

Ticket to Heaven is a drama with a fascinating insight into how one intelligent, literate person can become seduced by a cult.  If the movie didn’t do the legwork, if it failed to show us the actual process, then the whole thing would be meaningless.  We’d be watching from the inside out and that would be fatal.  But the screenwriters here have done their homework and we see and feel the process of indoctrination at work.

Nick Mancuso plays David Kappel, a school teacher with a reasonable and fair mind who travels from Toronto to San Franciso to find out became of his friend who went out west and apparently joined a cult.  At the training camp, he is welcomed with open arms, asked to join in their meals and their sing-a-longs and is invited to spend the weekend.  When this weekend is over, he has become a member of their group.

Here’s where it gets tricky because we are asking ourselves if it is actually possible for a healthy, clear-headed individual from the outside would possibly be recruited that fast.  If the movie failed to let us in then it wouldn’t work as well.  We are privy to their technique, which includes sleep deprivation, a low-protein diet (he vomits up food that is not on the routine), and he is overwhelmed by positive re-enforcement.  He is never alone and the group engages in chants and songs that are repeated over and over.

The drama here doesn’t feel like simply a lock-step plot.  We care deeply about David and we see the way that he is fenced in by the cult, how their programming works, and how they keep him within a specific area of mental conditioning.  There are scenes in which he tries to break the rules – to be alone or to eat something off their menu – and we see the results of what the conditioning has done to him and how difficult it is to break away from it.

That is why the scenes in the third act are so effective as David’s loved ones come west to try and remove him from the cult.  We can see how difficult it is for David to escape from the cult, and then we can also see how difficult it is for his family to deprogram him.  There is a contrast there because by the time his family shows up, we the viewer have so given ourselves to his experience.  We fully understand the spell that he is under.  He is in a place that offers him comfort and positivity, the lesser burden of the independence and randomness of the outside world.  The cost is his freedom of choice.  We’re right there with him, and that’s the scariest thing about it.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1981) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized