My Scientology Movie is infuriating, terrifying, and bizarre and I’m still coming down from it.
This is nowhere near the first documentary on the subject of Scientology, but somehow it’s the first I’ve seen. Director John Dower and presenter Louis Theroux seem realize that they’d better come up with a new spin on the Scientology doc if they’re going to stand out from the rest. They decide to hire actors to play church leader David Miscavige, actor Tom Cruise, and other miscellaneous converts to recreate real-life scenes as recalled by former members.
Their focus on reenactments came across as gimmicky at first. As the film went on, however, I could see the benefit of such an approach other than just desperately trying to appear unique. The audition scenes prove to be surprisingly effective tools to break down Miscavige’s communication style. Dower and Theroux’s approach helps them make several points that most other documentaries would have been forced to make with boring talking head interviews.
The rest of the film- most of it actually- just follows Theroux around while he’s spending time with former members who for one reason or another have left the church. Marty Rathbun, who spent over 20 years discrediting critics on the church’s behalf, is Theroux’s best source of information and oversaw all the film’s reenactments. He’s a compelling character. He’s usually quite forthcoming and likeable but tends to get edgy and downright defensive; especially when asked about his bitterness towards the institution, and the harm he himself has done in the name of Scientology.
The lingering questions you may have about Marty Rathbun make for both a more interesting and a more limited documentary. My Scientology Movie makes some frightening accusations about what goes on behind closed doors but, with a church so infamous for its secrecy, all we’re left with are the stories of some bitter ex-members. The documentary asks some good questions and tells some fascinating stories but, in the end, Miscavige and Scientology itself are as unknowable to us as ever.
My Scientology Movie‘s most fascinating player is Scientology itself, whose opposition to the project begins with some strongly worded letters and quickly escalates to angry and creepy harassment. From a PR standpoint, I don’t get it. Had they just let Theroux and Rathbun make their movie in peace, they would have been left with a much more convincing film. But just like Donald Trump, who seems incapable to letting go even the most inconsequential of criticisms, they just can’t seem to help themselves and have, as a result, handed the filmmakers the best and eeriest footage in the whole film.
I have to be honest – after watching HBO’s Going Clear I’ve had this drop the mic attitude about Scientology documentaries. There were some before it, and several have come after it, but I just can’t see anyone topping Alex Gibney’s amazing film.
However, out of respect for the quality of the opinions on CinemaAxis I read your review, and “My Scientology Movie” sounds fascinating, part of the “Kate Plays Christine”-style wave of meta documentaries. Now I’ve gotten over myself and concluded to check this out whenever I get the chance. Great review.
You make a great point about the documentary when you say the Scientologists response to Louie Theroux is so unfathomable. It’s a really fascinating documentary in large part to that, and thanks to just how funny it is. Great review!
I didn’t love Going Clear – I thought it was very superficial, so I’ve been wary. And adding actors to the mix seems a bit weird.
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