As you may know, Paul Thomas Anderson has a new movie, The Master, coming out in October. You may know this thanks to the shrill, girlish squeals of excitement that we here at Grantland emit every time any new scrap of info on The Master is revealed. Or you may know this thanks to the storm of anti-Scientology sentiment upon which The Master — which is "not about Scientology" in the least "not about Scientology" way possible — will soon be riding into theaters. As the New York Daily News reports, Tom Cruise has seen an early cut of the movie. And Tom Cruise, dear friends, is not pleased with what he has seen. Oh, this is so on.
PTA obsessives and Scientology-watchers have been closely monitoring the development of The Master since 2010, when an early draft of the script leaked. As The Playlist's review explained, "The Master is the story of a charismatic intellectual [played by Philip Seymour Hoffman] who hatches a faith-based organization that begins to catch on in America in 1952 called The Cause. The core dynamic centers on the relationship between The Master and Freddie Sutton [played by Joaquin Phoenix] ... an aimless twenty-something drifter and alcoholic." Denials on The Cause's similarities to Scientology came initially from within the The Master camp, but between the Times' ticking off a litany of superficial similarities between Hoffman's character Lancaster Dodd and L. Ron Hubbard and the recently released trailers, those denials now seem pretty weak-sauce. By the way, the movie struggled to find financing, possibly because of fear over the exact battle lines we now see being drawn. Eventually, it took the considerable resources of plucky Megan Ellison, the 26-year-old daughter of rich guy Larry Ellison, to get the movie going.
PTA and Cruise go way back to their Magnolia days, and so the early screening was presumably a preemptive volley to maintain peaceful relations between the auteur and the movie star. It didn't quite work out that way. In May, TheWrap.com reported that Cruise "had issues" with the flick. The Daily News now follows up on exactly what that means:
According to our insider, one scene that didn’t sit well with Cruise takes place on a patio where ... Freddie Sutton ... watches Dodd pontificate about the religion he has created. During the scene, the source says, another character close to the founder turns to [Sutton] and says of Dodd, “You know he’s making it up as he goes along.” Referring to the actual Church of Scientology, our source says, “Tom Cruise’s people are grumbling about this line — amongst others — but Anderson is not taking it out."
And the swords come out! While the Church of Scientology told the Daily News that “No one in the church has seen the film, and we have no comment," the speculated beef has nonetheless now turned itself into a sizzling, delicious portion of actual beef. One that maybe even comes with a side option of baked or mashed potato.
More drama! Thanks to Cruise's divorce from Katie Holmes, the sport of Scientology-watching has now reached a fever pitch. In an article titled "Katie Holmes 'Biggest Nightmare' in Scientology History, Say Experts," THR explores the dirt the split may uncover. (Then again, who knows, given the reported settlement just reached.) As prominent ex-Scientologist Marty Rathburn puts it, "Katie was monitored as if she lived under the Stasi." (In an unrelated but weirdly apt bit of news, Holmes is heading into production on Molly, a movie about a single mom and her daughter that she co-wrote. And, yes, it would have been cool if Katie Holmes had followed up her split from Tom Cruise by co-writing a movie about MDMA.) The Village Voice's Tony Ortega is all over the story, and has been feverishly reporting on both Scientology's attempts to control Holmes and on its recent (unrelated) high-profile personnel defections and money issues. Depending on where you're standing, the new boon in anti-Scientology chatter is either auspicious or ominous timing for The Master.
You think I'm actually ballsy enough to say anything negative about The Church of Scientology in public? Are you out of your mind? No way, dude. Tom Cruise is great. Paul Thomas Anderson is great. And Jeremy Renner and I are sitting this one out.