Paul Thomas Anderson's new drama "The Master" cleaned up at the Venice Film Festival this weekend, with both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix taking home best actor honors. But the outpouring of critical acclaim was reportedly tempered by a far less positive reaction from Scientologists angry about the film's parallels with the Church of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
The New York Post reports that church members have been “inundating” the distributor, The Weinstein Co., with "strange calls" criticizing the picture. Members may also be planning further strategy to discredit the film following the release next week. These plans could include a dedicated Scientology-funded ad campaign, promoting the church's message wherever “The Master” is being advertised.
Set in the 1950s, "The Master" tells the story of two men, played by Hoffman and Phoenix, who forge an interesting bond. While director Anderson has acknowledged that L. Ron Hubbard was the inspiration for Hoffman's character, he emphasizes the film is about the characters' relationship, and not the Scientology movement itself, according the Washington Post.
In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Hoffman echoed the sentiment, saying "It's not the L. Ron Hubbard story."
A Post source notes that calls to Weinstein's office had become so numerous that some people hired extra security. (Weinstein's security was already tight due to an unrelated blackmail attempt.)
Scientology members have a history of aggressively defending themselves against perceived attacks from outsiders.
Hubbard's great-grandson Jamie DeWolf, who's a comedian, said he was followed and intimidated by church members after a stand-up performance critical of the organization.
"Scientologists were at my door with fake cover stories claiming that they were performers doing a show with me. They had people following me, they were on me immediately,” DeWolf said in the interview with CBS San Francisco.
In addition, a surprise media blitz in January during the Golden Globes was reportedly in response to the scandal caused by Scientology dissident over Debbie Cook, the Village Voice reported at the time.