I must briefly admit of my utter excitement when I first caught a glimpse of the public release of Louis Theroux’s next admirably naive endeavour. Yet, somehow I was knowingly prepared for what I was about to witness would, humorously, not be something I was truly expecting. And I must concur, that indeed, it felt like a Louis Theroux documentary and it certainly looked like one. However, something that it wasn’t, was a documentary that attempted to weave an understanding of what Scientology, as a cult, is. What Louis and his director John Dower did perfectly was neglect wasting the audience’s time on filling gaps that they already knew the answers to, and instead, this allowed for a much more focused and targeted response. Though, Louis briefly discussed the origins and manifesto of Scientology, he didn’t discuss it for the two hour period because he correctly presumed that the audience had some initial intellect on the subject (after all, it’s not as if this is the first Scientology documentary), and in result, this allowed him to progressively advance into his own direction for the film, and it was his direction that intrigued me the most.
Though I’ve watched Louis’ content for a prolonged period of time, this was my first viewing of a theatrical documentary in which I would actually have to visit the cinema and pay to watch. Which in some aspect, presented the idea that it would be dramatically different, and possibly worse than I was expecting, as I felt Louis would have to break away from his character to… get on his knees and pander in order to sell tickets – like a sex-worker trying to earn her next meal. However, I would describe myself as both quenched and intrigued in what I viewed as I desired and subliminally mocked Louis and John Dower’s naivety in the subject they had chosen. However, Louis spent a decade researching Scientology before production and he fully understood; from the start; his inability to gain access to the innards of the organisation. I may suggest that this is what intrigued me the most about the film, as I challenged how Louis would attain enough content to suffice a feature length production.
But my lack of faith in Louis was certainly unnecessary, as I would personally suggest that he presented a unique perspective on the issue, and one that raised a serious argument about the organisation. Interestingly, his Scientology movie was not solely about Scientology and in fact, it detailed more about the disciples and convicts of the religious cult rather than the religion itself. However, he also willfully criticised Scientology’s lack or respect for its followers, and anyone who tries to ‘expose’ the truth. This idea was certainly refreshing and differed from any other cult documentaries I’ve previously watched. Louis managed to attack Scientology psychologically, using only facts to pillow his investigation. Sadly, this is where many other documentaries go wrong as they fail to research into the evidence they have sourced, or often it is unable to conclude an overall analysis.
Again, if you’re a long time viewer of Louis’ work, like myself, you’ll have knowledge that this isn’t his first experience meeting with and interviewing radicalists of cult organisations. In fact, his experience with Scientology was probably more convenient than his induction with the KKK, Neo-Nazis and ‘The Most Hated Family In America’. Frankly, we didn’t need to see Louis’ uncomfortable character parade with some of the most secretive and exploitative members of this crazed cult. Instead, the audience viewed a very neglected perspective by interviewing and following the lives of past members. Those of whom had disregarded their positions of authority only to find themselves jobless and homeless, yet unchained, the very next day. Many ex-members, or known by the organisation as SP’s (Suppressive Person), lived normal lives after their association with the organisation – To Louis and the audience’s surprise.
Yet, Louis understood the psychological trauma these people had gone through, and he knew he could unreasonably exploit this in order to produce an insight into Scientology. His first and pivotal encounter was with Marty Rathbun, who seemingly used to obtain one of the most powerful and ‘most badass’ positions the cult offered. Known by his previous colleagues as the ‘Inspector General Of The Religious Technology Center’, Marty oversaw all operations of the organisation, which essentially ‘kept the ship sailing’. Marty was a prestigious and crucial part to Scientology – just as he was for Louis’ documentary. To some degree, the parallels between Louis’ exploits Vs. Scientology’s are eerily similar. In fact, I must dishonour Louis’ actions in the production of this documentary as, for the first, I noticed his exploitation of these vulnerable and targeted people (Those of whom are trying to leave the premises of Scientology behind.) that he puppeteered in order to produce content worth watching. Louis’ manipulation of perspective in the film was something I certainly did not agree with.
Marty goes in depth in the production and timeline of filming and shares his personal opinions on his own blog linked here: https://markrathbun.wordpress.com/2016/09/05/louis-therouxs-scientology-movie/
(it’s a great read and provides a lot of contextual background to the movie – In which It caused me to rewrite a large portion of this review.)
Despite this, I do think Louis aided in Marty’s correct representation of Scientology, though it was slightly dramatised. Marty contributed a large portion of his time and knowledge in order to correctly portray Scientology’s practices and events. This information was great for people that had minimal knowledge on the subject like myself. However, what really interested me about the movie was the depiction of Marty’s conflicted relationship with the organisation. In fact, something that they do extremely well is conveyed Scientology’s psychological impact on Marty, as the movie and events in it act as a kind of therapy for him. Marty’s ability to recreate some of these traumatic events do placebo as rehabilitation for him as he’s never been able to correctly portray his opinion in previous interviews – but rather a mouth-fed representation written by the interviewee to spark fear in the eyes of the audience. Although, In Marty’s blog he does accuse Louis of the latter and I do seriously feel that the production benefited in Marty’s mental battle and acceptance of his past.
Humour, in this film, contributed to a structurally integral aspect of allowing this Documentary to appeal to a wider audience. Although Louis uses underlining humour in a lot of his documentaries; more specifically his ‘Weird Weekend’ series; I felt that I was partaking in the public humiliation of Scientology as Louis acted as the school bully by subduing the audience into portraying himself as the hero, and Scientology as the villain. Which, although I’m not excusing Scientology, I don’t think character archetypes are appropriate in documentaries, especially ones about religion as it visibly conveys the creator’s personal agenda in which, according to louis’ criticisms, are deeply ironic and I feel that Louis’ hypocrisy is another poor aspect of this film.
However, Louis did produce some interesting alternatives that managed to diverse the documentary genre. More specifically, his use of dramatised reconstruction achieved a direction that I had never seen before as he used the actors as recruits of Scientology, as Marty and Louis taught them various techniques used by the organisation. – this enabled a genuine response by the actors and when it came to the reconstructions, it felt almost real.
In all, ‘My Scientology Movie’ was different, but it was nothing better than one of his BBC documentaries that I can watch for free, whenever I want, in the comfort of my own home. I do think he lacked morality in this film which was caused solely by desperation. However, It was more than bearable. in fact, it was extremely enjoyable, although not very insightful. In some way, I do think Louis targeted what he wanted to convey, which was to reaffirm people’s beliefs that Scientology is this destructive and possessive religion that is as fictional as the creator’s novels. Yet, I don’t think he conveyed the ability to stand neutral on the subject which sadly disgruntled me. His lack of respect for Marty, especially towards the end, displayed Louis and John Dower’s consideration, or lack thereof. To conclude, for the stated reasons, I’m giving ‘My Scientology Movie’ a 6.5/10, which truly does sadden me as I’m a huge Louis Theroux fan.