sun 14/07/2024

My Scientology Movie | reviews, news & interviews

My Scientology Movie

My Scientology Movie

Louis Theroux's eccentric take on the world's weirdest religion

Louis Theroux wants to go to church

Can Louis Theroux bring anything new to the Scientology party? If you’ve seen Going Clear, Alex Gibney’s detailed documentary based on Lawrence Wright’s book, or watched Tom Cruise acting weird on YouTube, you already know that the Church’s great secrets are not so secret any more. We’ve heard about the aliens and the galaxies, the E-meters and the Operating Thetans, the elite Sea Org and the hellish conditions in the Hole.

No Scientology members are going to open up to Theroux, however charmingly open-minded he may be, and he doesn’t want to do another Going Clear, with disillusioned ex-members airing their grievances. So this is, as he puts it, a non-access-based documentary, which doesn’t sound promising. It’s directed by John Dower (Thrilla in Manila) and produced by Simon Chinn (Man on Wire) who, says Theroux, was the one who reignited his enduring fascination with Scientology - Theroux finds its members' self-belief appealing and thinks it may have been "hijacked by its own pope" - by suggesting it as the subject for a full-length feature.

A film about well-meaning people who seem bizarre to the outside world is tailor-made for Theroux. But “don’t go there big man,” advises one of his Twitter followers. And he can’t really go there, which is why the film doesn’t entirely work, though it’s still fascinating to see how he deals with the imposed limitations.

As no well-meaning Church members materialize, Louis has to find actors to play them. This isn’t quite as lame as it sounds. Inspired by The Act of Killing, in which Indonesian military killings are re-enacted by their perpetrators, he gets ex-Scientology big-wig Marty Rathbun, who also featured in Going Clear, on board to oversee open casting calls for the roles of Tom Cruise and David Miscavige, the Church’s violently unpleasant leader. Could reenactments be a kind of therapy for Rathbun (pictured below with Theroux)? He was once the enforcer for Miscavige, had his hand in many unsavoury pies and beat up several people along the way. A Scientology exec for 27 years, he blew (defected) in 2004 and has been harassed by the Church ever since. He’s kind of complicit, while also a victim.

MartyTherouxThey spend a lot of time driving around LA and its environs (the Church owns a huge amount of real estate) to a dramatic soundtrack by Dan Jones, interspersed with grandiose Scientology promotion videos. Theroux's questioning seems to be getting on Rathbun's nerves. Things get tenser. Is Marty hiding something? A few more ex-members add their testimonies - Jeff Hawkins, who was in the Church for 35 years, left his wife and friends behind and "walked out into a world that's totally foreign", is one of the most impressive. "Marty's tiptoeing around. He hasn't divulged everything," he says.

Sometimes the reenactments are hilarious. In a "forcefulness drill", Rathbun tells Theroux to yell “Sit down” and “Stand up” at a glass ashtray, and then to repeat, “I am a wildflower.” Andrew Perez is cast in the Miscavige role and channels him scarily well (good career move). “I tap in easily to anger and righteousness,” he says. In one chillingly abusive Hole scene - deficient executives are sent there to be punished and re-programmed, sometimes for years at a time - he goes berserk at the cast, including Theroux. Everyone looks traumatised. Rathbun nods approvingly. Perez nailed it.

Theroux starts getting lawyer letters – the Church knows what he’s up to. It’s famous for how effectively it attacks its enemies. Should he be scared? That’s the point: the only hope of access is the negative kind, with angry Scientologists following Theroux and Rathbun, telling them to stop trespassing and filming them for their own documentary. Familiar territory, but it’s still entertaining to see Louis beseeching Scientology PR Catherine Fraser, who gets full marks for forcefulness, outside the sinister, razor-wire protected Gold Base compound (the Hole is here) near Hemet, southeast of LA. "Why are you angry, Catherine? My deepest desire is to speak to someone from the Sea Org,” says Theroux wistfully. You wish it could have worked out for him.

Overleaf: watch the trailer to My Scientology Movie

Theroux finds its members' self-belief appealing and thinks the church may have been 'hijacked by its own pope'


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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