Screenplay by R. L. Thomas and Anne Cameron; directed by R. L. Thomas.

How can a rational, clear-thinking person fall prey to a cult that other rational, clear-thinking people perceive as false—even bizarre?

There are no easy answers, but Ticket to Heaven, a United Artists Classics film, opens at least a window on how otherwise intelligent people can suddenly have all their intellectual fuses blown and their reasoning powers short-circuited. Ticket, based on the book Moonwebs by Josh Freed, is the story of a young Jewish teacher from Toronto. David, says his shocked father who could not even get him to attend synagogue, was an atheist. How could he be involved with a cult?

We’ve heard explanations, but never had them so graphically illustrated. David, superbly played by Nick Mancuso, arrives in San Francisco on an emotional low: his lover, Sarah, has just left him. In search of companionship with a boyhood friend, he finds himself thrust instead into first the friend’s communal (read cult) residence, then camp.

He is denied sleep, protein-rich food, and coerced into indoctrination sessions and determinedly enthusiastic chanting and singing that explode into mass fervor. He is also denied what he wants most: time to think for himself. Doubts, whether expressed or simply seen in his expression, are subjected to group pressure. Emotions take over and the thinking process is unhinged. His mentors have mind manipulation perfected. The campfire “testimony” service seems alarmingly familiar—a scene that should raise some honest questions for evangelicals.

David’s qualms about the integrity of hawking flowers to support a nonexistent drug rehabilitarion center are identified as the influence of “Satan,” along with anything or anyone else posing a threat—including family and friends.

Mancuso’s David, with his vacant eyes and robotlike behavior, is frightening. It is only with deprogramming that expression returns, that the circuitry is repaired and the thinking process restarted.

This is an important film. Evangelicals concerned about cult influence should make a point to see it.

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