Directed by Mary Harron
Written by Guinevere Turner
Producers: Cindi Rice, John Frank Rosenblum, Dana Guerin
Matt Smith as Charles Manson
Hannah Murray as Leslie Van Houten
Sosie Bacon as Patricia Krenwinkel
Marianne Rendón as Susan Atkins
Suki Waterhouse as Mary Brunner
Chace Crawford as Tex Watson
Budget N/A Box Office $25, 562
IMDb 5.6/10 Rotten Tomatoes 50% Metacritic 55/100
This is one of the most interesting films on the Manson women to date. While the screenplay is written by Guinevere Turner, the film itself is based on two different books:
The Family: The Story of Charles Manson’s Dune Buggy Attack Battalion by Ed Sanders
The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten by Karlene Faith
The most interesting about this film is that it focuses more on how Charlie treated the WOMEN in his cult rather than Charlie himself. All the hype around the Tate-LaBianca murders, along with other murders such as that of Gary Hinman, generally focus on Manson himself, as if he was the only person in the cult. This film certainly gives you a closer look from the point of view of “the Manson Women”.
While in all their interviews and statements during their arrests and trials they maintained “Charlie is love”, the truth is the man was a creepy little manipulative monster that preyed on the vulnerabilities of young women. We see in this film how Charlie systematically strips these young girls of their identities. He exploits any weakness he finds but, in a way that makes them feel loved and cherished and special. He digs into their psyche and plays with their minds and emotions.
These girls openly go to Charlie. They willingly allow him to explore their minds, their bodies, their pasts. They answer every question, believing that in their honesty with him, THEY will be considered his “special girl”. We see how willing they are to take his abuse and humiliation, how they let him pass them around like property to other men.
People often ask how it was that this tiny little nothing was able to get ahold of the minds of so many young people. This film does an excellent job of showing how he got control of the group, collectively and individually. We get a taste of how his ego played a big part in how he treated these girls, whichever one fed his ego the most seemed to get the best treatment, as it usually goes with cults. However, as it also usually goes with cults, those that defy the leader, no matter how much they are favored, will be disciplined and more often than not in front of the rest of the group. There are a number of things that Charlie did to these women, who were just kids at the time really, that really messed with their heads. And while that doesn’t excuse what they did, it does help explain how they got to that point.
I know people don’t like hearing that “the Manson Women” are/were victims. It just doesn’t seem to sit well in the pit of the stomachs of the public or the justice system. But you have to remember, these girls didn’t start out as murderers. Some of the girls from the cult came from affluent, good homes, went to good schools, etc. Some were runaways looking for safety and direction. Some were just looking for fun, drugs and free love. There were people that hung around the cult for days, weeks, even months and then just took off. They weren’t the true followers. They were just passersby if you will.
The writer of this film, Guinevere Turner, has a unique perspective as she herself was raised in what mainstream society refers to as “a cult”. To her, it was just her way of life. She didn’t know any different. She did, however, get to see firsthand how the hierarchy of a cult works, the systematic degradation of human beings and brainwashing of minds, the attempts to rebuild people in the image of one person’s mind of what is ideal and perfect and how the attempts of perfection and Utopia can turn into menace and mayhem. You can read her essay on her experience published on The New Yorker website here:
I highly recommend this film to anyone who would like a completely different view of the whole Manson Family story. One that is not skewed by the press, the prosecutors or Manson himself.