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Unpacking America’s Unintended Impact: A Review of the Documentary Waiting for John

The film is a captivating exploration of the last cargo cult, the John Frum Movement, and its intricate belief system.

Keywords: Cargo cults, John Frum Movement, American influence, globalization, belief systems, faith, tradition, modernity, cultural studies, anthropology. Three words: Engrossing, enlightening, thought-provoking.


"Waiting for John," a documentary directed by Jessica Sherry and released in 2015, dives into the fascinating world of cargo cults, with a focus on the John Frum Movement. Set on a remote island, the film reveals the unintended impact of America on this isolated community, a topic of increasing relevance in our globally connected world.


The documentary showcases the last cargo cult, the John Frum Movement, named after a mystical figure associated with American wealth and prosperity. The islanders' belief system, their rituals, and their anticipation for John Frum's return offers a thought-provoking look at the complex interplay between faith, culture, and external influences.

More Film Analysis



"Waiting for John" takes an observational approach, allowing the subjects to tell their stories without interference. The quality of research is commendable, and the depth of exploration into the islanders' belief system is profound. The documentary's presentation style is simple yet effective, capturing the cultural nuances and the island's breathtaking scenery.

Historical and Factual Context


The John Frum Movement is one of the last surviving cargo cults, a phenomenon that arose in Melanesia during and after WWII, when isolated communities came into contact with the outside world. The cults revolve around the idea of obtaining the wealth and prosperity symbolized by the goods delivered by Westerners.

Key themes in the film

  • The interplay between modernity and tradition
  • The power and influence of belief systems
  • The unintended consequences of Western influence on isolated cultures

Film Comparisons

Unlike other documentaries on similar themes, "Waiting for John" focuses on one specific cult, offering a deep-dive into its belief system and rituals, rather than a broad overview of multiple cults.

Noteworthy Moments

The rituals performed by the islanders, their unwavering faith in the return of John Frum, and their interpretation of American symbols and rituals are particularly enlightening.


"Waiting for John" has been well received, earning a 7.2 rating on IMDb. Critics have praised the film for its insightful exploration of a lesser-known cultural phenomenon.


"Waiting for John" offers a rare glimpse into the world of cargo cults, making it a must-watch for anyone interested in cultural studies, anthropology, or the effects of globalization.

More film information:


  • IMDb score: 7.2
  • Rotten Tomatoes score: N/A
  • Metacritic score: N/A
  • Film festival awards: 1 win



  • Island elders: The custodians of the John Frum belief system
  • Younger island inhabitants: Struggling to reconcile their traditional beliefs with the modern world



  • The remote island: The setting of the documentary and the home of the John Frum Movement*

Key Questions Raised by the Film

  • How does the John Frum Movement reflect the clash between tradition and modernity?
  • What does the cargo cult phenomenon reveal about the impact of Western influence on isolated cultures?

I wonder what the film would be in another art form

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  1. A famous book, it would be "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley - as it explores the clash between tradition and modernity.
  2. A famous song, it would be "Imagine" by John Lennon - as it encourages us to consider different belief systems and ways of life.
  3. A famous piece of art, it would be "The Persistence of Memory" by Salvador Dali - as it represents the fluidity and complexity of time, much like the islanders' anticipation for John Frum's return.
  4. A famous celebrity, it would be David Attenborough - for his ability to bring lesser-known aspects of our world into the spotlight.
  5. A colour, it would be green - for its association with nature, growth, and renewal, reflecting the island's lush landscape and the movement's faith in a prosperous future.
  6. A music style, it would be tribal music - as it evokes the community bonds, rituals, and traditions depicted in the documentary.

Watch Waiting For John - Streaming Online | iwonder (Free Trial)
The story of the last cargo cult, the John Frum Movement, and America’s unintended impact on one remote island.