Documentarian and falsetto singer Louis Theroux takes to the big screen with this investigation into the Church of Scientology. We’re reviewing this documentary between us in order to confuse the squirrel-busters.
An irresistible force meets an unmovable object, as the notoriously litigious and bizarrely aggressive cult attempt to phase the unphasable Louis Theroux. The deadpan approach with which he carved out his niche is perfectly suited to this project, which sees Louis meet former Scientologists (including high-profile defectors Marty Rathbun and Tom De Vocht) and confuse some current ones. There are a lot of Scientology exposés out there, including Scientologists at War which focuses on Rathbun, but My Scientology Movie stands out from the crowd thanks to Louis and his facetious-British-robot style.
Another novel idea is the use of reconstructions of the cult’s practices, though it’s unclear precisely what these add to the documentary, as they’re usually reconstructions of events for which there is footage available. The most insightful of the acted scenes is an improvisation of life in the infamous ‘hole’, a cosy-sounding correctional facility and home to alleged abuse by Church leader David Miscavige. This is something that obviously can’t be shown for real, so the reconstruction does allow for some insight, but at the same time it’s only speculative.
The process of putting together these reconstructions is essentially a device through which to hear insider accounts from within the religion, with Rathbun overseeing auditions and providing the actors with context from his own experiences. A cynical person might say that the secondary aim is to provoke the infamous Scientology stalking that has become a staple of these documentaries, and provides the least contestable proof of the way the Church conducts its business.
Much of the content will be familiar to those with an interest in Scientology or who’ve seen the South Park episode ‘Trapped in the Closet’, but talk of the Church’s billion-year contracts and $50,000 price tags on courses (and that’s just entry level) does bear repeating. The film also presents Rathbun as a much more problematic figure than Scientologists at War, and features Louis Theroux screaming at an ashtray. It’s this sense of absurdity that makes My Scientology Movie unique.
With great wit and laugh-out-loud comedy, Louis wryly lifts the lid on the “fucking nightmare” (De Vocht’s phrase) that is the Church of Scientology and its various miscaviages of justice.