Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie
Walking out of a screening of Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie is surreal and, to be honest, a little bit terrifying. Is that white car following me? Am I being secretly filmed? Are they out to get me now too?
It's unconventional for a Theroux film. The British documentary king is normally allowed almost unrestricted access into the most weird and wonderful corners of society; but oh no. Not Scientology. Call it what you want – the religion, cult, celebrity-endorsed ideology – isn't having a bar of his attempts to infiltrate and understand their notoriously private group, and they certainly aren't afraid to let him know.
In classic Theroux fashion, persistence is an understatement. Realising he won't get access to the real thing, he seeks to recreate the Scientology world with the help of a few high profile ex-scientologists who left the religion after many years at the top of its ranks. With Marty Rathbun, who was once second in command to Scientology’s mysterious (and by almost all accounts violent and manipulative) leader David Miscavige, Theroux auditions young actors in LA to help imagine some of the most intense events, teachings and practices from ex-members’ times inside the religion.
The film is built around his frustrations at not being allowed access into these people’s lives, and along the way manages to catch glimpses of the rules and regulations that govern Scientology. It’s not like the religion – with its own fancy film studios, huge collections of literature and members like Tom Cruise – needs someone to document its goings on. Moreover, you won't be surprised to hear they aren't particularly pleased about excommunicated members spreading their training methods, writings and allegations of violence to the non-believing public.
The religion started by a sci-fi writer that makes its most high ranking members sign billion-year contracts are known for having powerful lawyers, and self-appointed crusaders who make it their duty to follow and taunt those who might do anything to give Scientology a bad name. Some of the organisation’s highest-ranking members pop up in the film – claiming public roads as private property, standing outside the studio Theroux is filming in and recording him right back; even hiring a private investigator to tail Louis’s car for four hours. You may not be afforded access into the innermost workings of the group, but the film certainly provides an insight into how powerful, wealthy and protective of their lifestyle these people are.
Flitting between tense and (nervously) hilarious, Theroux’s sharp wit and talent at telling stories shine through despite being repeatedly knocked back by his subjects. He pushes his sources right to the edge; a couple of times almost losing Marty Rathbun, his closest source – but always pulling back at the right moment. Make no mistake, My Scientology Movie is by no means a groundbreaking exposé into the inner workings of Scientology, but watching someone try to weasel their way under its skin is equal parts entertaining, mischievious and utterly unnerving.
By Matilda Edwards
After more Louis Theroux? Read our full interview with the man himself here.
Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie screens Saturday August 13 at Hoyts Melbourne Central as part of the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival.