'After Earth' as Scientology Propaganda: What Critics Are Saying
Desolate planets, bubbling volcanoes and all that talk about overcoming fear: Is Will Smith's new movie trying to sell us something more than a good time?
Rolling Stone's Peter Travers also cites Battlefield Earth in his review, writing, "After Earth merits comparison with 2000's Battlefield Earth, John Travolta's godawful film tribute to the sci-fi novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Yes, it's that bad."
Smith, rumored to be a member of the controversial religion that counts Tom Cruise and Travolta among its most famous adherents, has long denied any official affiliation with the Church.
Still, the New Village Leadership Academy, a school he co-founded in 2008 with wife Jada Pinkett-Smith, is staffed by a number of Scientologists and employs "Study Technology," a teaching methodology developed by Hubbard.
Rumors of After Earth's Scientologist leanings have been circulating since its first trailer hit the Internet in late 2012. One widely circulated analysis on Reddit said much of the film's iconography depicted in the trailer mirrored Hubbard's writings.
The concept of the "abandoned Earth."
Scientologists believe that the planet was destroyed 75 million years ago when atomic bombs detonated in active volcanoes. Writer Jeff Carter of Geek League of America goes so far as to suggest that Oblivion, too, was influenced by the religion: "Wow … two trailers starring famous Scientologists exploring a postapocalyptic Earth in two days? What are the odds?" he wrote in December. "First we had Tom Cruise playing a human Wall-E in the Oblivion trailer, and today we get a preview of Will and Jaden Smith’s sci-fi vanity project/Scientology propaganda flick -- After Earth."
In the trailer, Smith's character, Cypher, tells his son, Kitai, "Fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create. … Danger is very real. But fear is a choice." A condensed version of that line has been used in the film's marketing. That notion corresponds with Scientology beliefs that negative thoughts are the products of traumatic collective memories. Overcoming fear and doubt -- i.e. becoming "clear" -- is the central tenet of Scientology.
The volcano itself.
A volcano, a central image in the religion, has graced the cover of Dianetics for years. In After Earth's trailer, one stands prominently in the background of one shot.
The shape of the spacecraft.
The ships in After Earth have rudders, suggesting a cross between an underwater predator and a jet airliner. Scientology believes that spaceships shaped like DC-8s were used to transport billions of aliens to Earth, then known as "Teegeeack," under the rule of Xenu, a galactic dictator.
The white uniform worn by Cypher, a member of the movie's Ranger Corps, an elite paramilitary organization, is reminiscent of the uniforms worn by members of Sea Org, or Scientology's seafaring equivalent.