My Scientology Movie


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

My Scientology
"Louis Theroux does not pretend to know everything. He waits to be informed and in the waiting good things happen." | Photo: Courtesy of London Film Festival

There are documentaries and there are documentaries about making documentaries and there are documentaries about failing to make documentaries.

The most famous practitioner of the latter would be Nick Broomfield who tried to make a film about Eugene Terre'Blanche, the neo-Nazi Afrikaner (The Leader, His Driver And The Driver's Wife), and another about the highway prostitute who bumped off her clients ( Aileen: The Life And Death Of A Serial Killer). He was the star of these movies. He could be called a brick wall artiste since he was denied access to just about everyone and everything.

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Louis Theroux's latest, for the big screen this time, is in the Broomfield mould. Not only is he locked out of Scientology's HQ in California but is followed wherever he goes and harassed in the street by their hyper controlling security team. When faced with the "This road is closed" stand off he looks at them, calm as anything, and says, "This is a public road." They say it isn't. He says it is. There are more of them and so he tries a new tack. He goes up to them, one by one, and asks, "What is your name?" They retreat. He retreats. And so it goes. Or, in this case, doesn't.

He has done his homework, however, and the story of Scientology's rise from an undigested idea in the mind of sc-fi writer L Ron Hubbard to a multi million dollar religious cult, starring Tom Cruise and a cluster of Hollywood celebs, would be impressive if it wasn't so dark. The baddie, according to Theroux, is David Misgavige who assumed leadership of The Church after Ron passed. Reclusive, pint sized, good looking in an internish kind of way, he has a reputation of using violence as a method of persuasion. Jonestown had its Master of the Night. Scientology has Misgavige. The chances of it imploding in mass suicide is unlikely. There is too much money involved.

Theroux's technique in overcoming the negative response from their PR dept is to persuade Marty Rathbon and other lesser luminaries, who escaped with their brains unwashed, to talk. Rathbon worked for The Church for over 20 years. He knows where the bodies are buried. Now living in Texas, middle aged, overweight and ready to spill the beans, he becomes the unlikely hero of this bizarre mystery.

They audition actors to play the roles of Misgavige and his associates, including Cruise, in scripted scenes of boardroom bullying. It is an unusual, imaginative method of subjective exposure, taking the place of the more traditional talking heads, pushing at Rathbon's open mouth with uncritical ease. The question is, do you trust him?

It doesn't matter because this is a film about Theroux attempting to do his job, him and his cameraman, sneaking around the walls of Hubbard's castle, hinting at wickedness within. His style is loose and laid back. He likes to stand, like an inquisitive llama, in front of his subject, waiting for words to fill the void. It is a game: I stare, you speak. Surprisingly, he makes it look like fun.

The best journalists have charm. Others are intense. Theroux does not pretend to know everything. He waits to be informed and in the waiting good things happen.

Reviewed on: 07 Oct 2016
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Louis Theroux explores the Church of Scientology. Or tries...
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Director: John Dower

Writer: John Dower, Louis Theroux

Starring: Louis Theroux, Marty Rathbun, Andrew Perez, Rob Alter, Jefferson Hawkins, Stacia Roybal

Year: 2015

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, US


Tribeca 2016

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