Their stories are insanely fun to listen to, and I wouldn’t mind hearing more.
Children of the Stars is about the Unarius Academy of Science, which sounds exactly like what it is: a cult. I don’t use “cult” in a bad way. It’s just the most fitting word for a religion as small and idiosyncratic as this. The viewing experience won’t be anything like Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. In the spirit of bi-partisanship, I won’t call Scientology a cult. But Going Clear was in my Top 10 films of 2015, so you can probably guess how I feel about the whole thing. Children of the Stars features a group of religious followers with beliefs just as “out-there” as Scientologists, but, on the whole, they come across as totally harmless and also intensely engaging and endearing.
Unarius was started by Ernest Norman, who was officially an electrical engineer and unofficially a philosopher, physicist, and poet (very much like Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in The Master, only not nearly as sinister). His co-founder was his wife, Ruth Norman, who was the main spiritual leader of Unarius and was responsible for its growth after Ernest’s death in 1971. An elderly, joyous, Glinda the Good Witch-type woman, she encouraged Unarius students to look into their past lives by seeking clues in science fiction. Interviews with several Unarius students reveal that they had lives stretching back several millennia, sometimes on other planets. They are taught to look at the challenges in their life as karma for misdeeds in their many past lives. Most of the bonus footage included on the DVD contains retellings of these experiences, which is by far the most interesting part of the entire documentary.
Their goal is to eventually uncover their entire history and reconcile it, and hopefully all of us will do the same. As soon as the world can rectify its violent and mutinous past, higher beings from the planet Aries will come to Earth. Until then, we can only hope to be lucky enough to cross over or to be visited by celestial beings like Ruth Norman, whose spiritual name was Uriel the Archangel. All of this mythology is treated very seriously by members, although they also seem to live very happy and creative lives. They often recreate the past experiences they’ve uncovered in short films, which makes Unarius one of the more creative and positively productive religious cults around.
Overall, the movie really makes you feel fondly towards the Unarius followers, although there are a few moments when you feel like the filmmakers are making fun of them. Recurring low-fi graphics (which may have been borrowed from actual Unarius films) and goofy incidental music often accompany interviews and retellings of Unarius lore. To skeptical, secular people like me, that may be amusing. But when you realize how many of them are sound-minded (albeit eccentric) people with big imaginations and even bigger hearts, the mocking starts to come off as mean-spirited. What’s more is the film lacks a central focus, ricocheting from personal interviews to archival footage to historical retellings without any solid pattern to go on. For a mythology so convoluted and foreign, I feel like a more concise and comprehensive storytelling approach would have been more appropriate.
These aren’t huge impediments when looking at the people, though, because the film shows Unarius in an ultimately positive and affectionate light. Astoundingly, these teachings seem to have helped quite a few followers regain control of their lives and find inner peace. If a religion can help people do that without anyone getting killed in the process, then it has my full support. It also doesn’t hurt that their stories are insanely fun to listen to, and I wouldn’t mind hearing more. | Nic Champion