By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review is of a documentary film that debuted at LFF this year but I sadly missed it. Luckily enough, the Phoenix in Leicester screened it a week later.
My Scientology Movie is written and presented by BBC journalist Louis Theroux and serves as his first feature-length, cinema-released film.
This 90-minute feature certainly makes for interesting viewing, but also a little disturbing…
Inspired by the Church's use of filming techniques, and aided by ex-members of the organisation, Louis Theroux uses actors to replay some incidents people claim they experienced as members in an attempt to better understand the way it operates. In a bizarre twist, it becomes clear that the Church is also making a film about Theroux.
The documentary begins with Louis Theroux giving a little bit of context on what Scientology is, who runs the religion and why he wants to make this documentary. The opening scenes are incredibly gripping, the film is set up to be such an exciting and educating documentary. Louis posts a tweet on social media stating he is making this movie, he receives a flood of tweets saying he is ‘mad’ to get involved with the ‘crazy’ scientologists. One user claims they already know he will be making the documentary – potentially right!
We quickly see the delights of LA where we meet Louis driving around the residential neighbourhoods with ex-scientologist Marty Rathbun. Marty is now known as a whistle-blower to head-scientologist David Miscavige who outed Rathbun as a liar and bitter. Marty is prominent throughout the movie as he gives insight into what took place during his decades involved with the cult.
Instead of this movie being another ‘talking heads’ type of documentary, Louis decides to depict what went on rather than Marty just discuss it. Theroux recruits up and coming actors to play different scientologists, including David Miscavige, to re-enact pivotal and extreme scenes from Scientology’s past.
One powerful scene where the recreation really pays off is the infamous ‘Hole’ experience. The ‘Hole’ is a prison for senior Scientologists (or Sea Orgs) where the most extreme abuse is allegedly occurs. The scene depicts bullying, emotional trauma, and the abuse of power by Miscavige. The treatment of ‘Suppressive Persons’, Scientology’s supposed apostates, is tackled with terrifyingly accurate acting by the actor playing Miscavige (Rathbun confirms the accuracy).
As you can tell by my review so far, you will see repeated ‘allegedly’, ‘confirmed by’ and the name ‘Marty Rathbun’ stated a lot. This is because where My Scientology Movie falters is the evidential facts; or at least getting the other side of the story. In fairness, when scientologists are on screen (they turn up to film Louis as he films them – I know) they say so little it’s embarrassingly cringe-worthy. The only thing the viewers must go on to build the truth is Marty Rathbun’s past experiences and a few recounts from other ‘bitter’ scientologists. This cannot give you a full tale as Theroux fails to secure an interview with Miscavige, or even a current scientologist who lives in the main HQ.
You still get the awkward silences, innocent but insistent probing, and Louis’s charming likeability factor but you quickly realise he has met his match with Scientology. The movie does fulfil its purpose in educating the world on this corporate cult but by being largely one-sided, the movie doesn’t quite get the juicy climax you are hoping for.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3.5 Stars
My Scientology will be released on TV and DVD in the coming months