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HomeReviews MoviesThe Synanon Fix movie review & film summary (2024)

The Synanon Fix movie review & film summary (2024)

Many of the survivors of Synanon would disagree with that last sentence. It’s startling to hear how many of the people involved in this organization still speak about its origins positively, noting that they wouldn’t be here without it. And yet watching “The Synanon Fix,” one can see the rot at the core of this approach to sobriety from the very beginning. Founded in 1957 by Dederich, Synanon was a drug rehab program in Santa Monica that was built around tearing people down. They gained notoriety for something called the “game,” a form of attack therapy wherein people essentially criticize, ridicule, and insult someone, forcing them into sobriety through shame more than anything else. Does it work? There are people alive today who insist that it does. But it inherently creates a deeply flawed power dynamic in that someone has to be in charge of the “game.” It is incredibly easy to draw the line from Dederich overseeing attack therapy to the way he would increase his attempts to control Synanon members over the decades to come.

“The Synanon Fix” really captures how programs like this rely on brainwashing. By the end, Synanon was abusing children, forcing members to swap partners, and even allegedly attempting murder by rattlesnake. Between those early days of letting junkies clean up on a dirty couch and the downfall, Kennedy details the increasingly disturbing decisions by the power structure of Synanon, particularly Dederich. So much of what is captured here is a story of how controlling behavior feeds on itself. Every time Dederich got his followers to do one thing, he had to top it the next time, until he was breaking one of the core rules about violence, broadcasting his members’ personal trauma, and shaving the heads of the females in Synanon. When Kennedy gets to interviewing the children of a neighbor who was well-known for being a sort of Underground Railroad for young people fleeing the abusive compound next door, it’s clear that the group has long ago left behind its higher moral purpose.

And yet what’s so interesting about the final hour is how little judgment the survivors place on Synanon. As a standalone hour, it’s one of the most fascinating documents in a long time regarding how cults form and persist. We all like to believe that we wouldn’t fall for a cult leader like Dederich but listen to these people who have seen so much awful behavior speak about community, survival, and supporting one another. Cults form because people ignore the bad and focus only on the good that they’re getting from that organization. When a gentleman speaks of being forced into a vasectomy in his twenties during a time when Dederich thought their group should be childless—women were forced into abortions too—there’s almost no anger in his voice. One would expect these people to be furious at being manipulated, but they seem to still consider all of the bad stuff that happened as mere cost for the clean community that saved their lives. 

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