Review: Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006)

An intriguing new look behind Peoples Temple and the largest mass suicide in recorded history.

This powerful documentary relates the compelling and disturbing story of cult leader Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple. Director Stanley Nelson recounts events leading up to November 18, 1978 when 909 people committed mass suicide in Guyana by drinking cyanide-laced fruit punch.

Jonestown incorporates previously unseen photos and film, as well as chilling audio from that final day, but the film’s real power comes from the eye-witness accounts of former church members and surviving family members. It’s their personal stories that best communicate the idealism and hopes of the diverse congregation, their paranoid leader’s twisted psychological game playing, and the surreal horror of that November day.

I remember when the Jonestown massacre happened, but there was quite a bit about the Jim Jones story I didn’t know before seeing this film. While the movie ends on an emotionally intense note, there are many questions left unanswered by the time the final credits roll making the film feel a tad bit incomplete. [****1/2 out of 5]

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