Ticket to Heaven is a 1981 Canadian film about the recruiting of a man into a group portrayed to be a cult, and his life in the group until forcibly extracted by his family and friends. The film was directed by Ralph L. Thomas. It was released on DVD on June 20, 1998.
David Kappel (Nick Mancuso), a twentysomething school teacher living in Toronto, has just had a messy break-up with his girlfriend, Sarah (Dixie Seatle) of many years. He visits his best friend, Larry (Saul Rubinek), an aspiring stand-up comedian, in the middle of Larry’s show, to talk. Although Larry is sympathetic to David’s plight, he doesn’t disapprove of her decision. After receiving an invitation from Karl (Stephen Markle), an old friend, David travels to San Francisco and “Liberty City”, an odd type of summer camp, way out in the countryside. However, as soon as David arrives, he can’t help but notice the extremely remote locale, the locked gates and the very tall fences. Everyone there is kind and friendly. The first person he meets is Greg (Timothy Webber), a former businessman who tells him of the greatness of the “group”. In actuality the facility is a training ground for a religious cult, although David does not know this.
At Liberty City, David sleeps in a dorm on old mats, is awakened at the crack of dawn for the morning “exercise”, which involves everybody holding hands and chanting, then is brought to his “focus group”, where groups of people sit around in a circle to “share” about themselves. David’s group is headed by the high-spirited Ruthie (Kim Cattrall), who also leads the morning chants. He then attends a long class by a “renowned doctor”, Dr. Dwyer (Patrick Brymer) who speaks extensively about God.
David soon develops reservations about the whole group – he frequently finds less and less time to himself, as he is followed around on a regular basis. Women flirt with him, but are repelled when he flirts back. David is very skeptical, but Karl, Ruthie and Greg convince him to stay. All of the elements of the camp begin to have an effect on David mentally; at one point he attempts an impromptu escape, only to be caught by Karl and returned to the camp.
Ruthie takes David to the camp’s phone booth: the only means of communication between the camp and the outside world. With Ruthie present, David speaks to his friend Larry and tells him he will not be coming home for a while. David is then brought to the camp’s “church”, run by the enigmatic Ingrid (Meg Foster). Ingrid instructs the group to pray to photos of their “true parents”: “Father”, an Asian businessman, the leader of the cult.
David and Greg graduate from Liberty City and are put to work as volunteer laborers for the organization. No longer at the camp, they now sleep in one of the group’s vans, awakening every morning to a cassette tape of Father giving them instructions: he instructs them that, while they are working “for God”, their food and sleep is severely limited, and they must sell as many of their wares as possible. The motto of the group’s “Father” is: “Bring in the money! Stay awake! Stamp out Satan!”.
David sets out to work, led by group leader Patrick (Robert Joy). David is shocked when Patrick lies to a customer (David Main), but Patrick explains that they are only using “Satan’s” methods to do “God’s” work, and that it is okay because “it’s only Satan’s money we’re taking.” Convinced, David follows along, and is discouraged from asking questions about the group or its methods.
Larry is concerned about David’s call from earlier. He confides to David’s parents, Morely (Paul Soles) and Esther (Marcia Diamond), who dismiss Larry’s concerns. Larry asks his boss, Mr. Stone (Harvey Atkin) for some time off so he can visit David. In a diner in San Francisco, Larry meets up with David, escorted by Patrick and Ingrid. Larry is shocked at the changes he finds in David’s personality. Larry asks that David come home for a few days, but Ingrid announces they have to leave, suggesting that Larry come to Liberty City where he and David may talk further.
At the camp, Larry is advised by one attendee, a tall man named Eric (Guy Boyd), not to cooperate.
David, meanwhile, out selling his wares with fellow member, Lisa (Jennifer Dale), notices a car pulls up and two men pull her inside, then drive off. At the church, Ingrid tells the congregation that “Satan” uses the group’s own parents to “corrupt them”. Ingrid then teaches the cult members how to commit suicide in the event that their parents attempt to forcibly remove them from the facilities. “Across for a hospital (gesturing on her wrists), down for death!” Lisa is soon returned via a police car, to the great delight of the group. In church, she tells them she “saw Satan in the eyes of my father”, showing her slit wrists.
Larry, meanwhile, has fallen under the sway of the group and is now on the road to becoming a cult member just like David. Eric intervenes and helps Larry escape from the camp, jumping the fence. Eric explains to Larry about the group and their methods. He is currently looking for his sister, who is a cult member.
Returning home, Larry tells everyone of David’s situation. Larry then devises a strategy to free his friend and restore his freedom of thought. A plan is set involving Mr. & Mrs. Kappel, Danny (Michael Zelniker), David’s brother, ex-girlfriend Sarah and the sympathetic Mr. Stone.
David waits at the airport with Patrick and Ingrid to meet with Sarah, whom they intend to indoctrinate into the group. David is surprised when his mother Esther arrives as well, as she was “dying to see him”. Going to dinner, Esther asks to stop by her hotel so she may change clothes. At the hotel, everyone is waiting. When Esther excuses herself into the bathroom, Larry, Eric, along with Danny, burst in the room and seize David. The whole group, carrying David, get away in another car.
David is taken to the house of Eric’s landlady, Mrs. Foster (Doris Petrie), and put in an empty room to prevent him from harming himself. He is given food, but he refuses to eat. He won’t talk to anyone, chanting Father’s motto repeatedly. Contacting David’s parents, Larry discovers that they have been arrested in regards to David’s kidnapping. When Larry tells David of the news, David tells them charges won’t be pressed if they let him go.
The deprogrammer, a no-nonsense man named Linc Strunc (R.H. Thomson), arrives and immediately proceeds to intimidate David, explaining “in order for him to think, he has to feel something“.
David is visited by his old friend Greg, who is now out of the cult. David accuses Greg of trying to “tempt” him. Linc asks David about the Bible – David has never read it. “Only Father can interpret its meaning.” Linc offers up a book written by Father, showing him the true agenda of the group. David tries to block things out by chanting, but this proves difficult, as Linc throws more facts at him. Linc finally makes leeway with David when he exposes a major hypocrisy in Father’s teaching. Linc then reviews David’s cult agenda with Father’s lifestyle, informing David exactly where all the money goes; namely, in Father’s pocket. David counters that Father is doing it for God, but when Linc tells him of Father’s weapons factory, David, enraged, calls Linc a liar. However, Linc provides more information, proving his case. David, now very disillusioned, asks Linc who the true Messiah is. Linc tells him he has no answers there, only that Father and his cult are a lie. When David asks of “true love”, he only needs to look around him: at Larry, Danny, Sarah, his parents, and everything they’ve done for him, and still are enduring for him. Crying, he embraces them all. Linc then reveals how he knows so much about Father: he himself is a former cult member.
David drops all charges and his parents are released. Everyone reunites and embraces outside Mrs. Foster’s house. Just before the film ends, however, a car pulls up. Out of the car comes Ingrid, Ruthie, Patrick and Lisa, who look at David questioningly. David looks at them while he continues hugging his parents.
The film is based on the non-fiction book Moonwebs: Journey into the Mind of a Cult by Josh Freed, which describes Freed and his friend (whom he calls ‘Benji Miller’) and their negative experiences with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church. When Benji’s friends finally found him, he had become a frail figure who sold flowers in the street to serve his master. Freed tried to understand what had happened to his friend, and went through the first stages of Moonie indoctrination himself, then organized an attempt to kidnap and deprogram his friend. The attempt was led by Benji’s parents, who were subsequently arrested for trying to win back their son. The deprogramming was done by Ford Greene.The film does not refer to Reverend Moon or the Unification Church by name but makes little effort to disguise the identity of the organization.
The film was selected as one of the top ten films of 1981 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half out of four stars .Time Magazinehad a more critical take, complaining that “Although it has plenty of impact, Ticket is often too busy being outraged to bother with niceties of characterization and plot. (Just how does David become converted? At what point does he snap out of it?)”, and suggesting that the film “ignores the central dilemma: that kidnapping an adult, however pure the motive or dear the victim, is against the law”.
Buona visione a tutti!