Director: Louis Theroux
I’ve been bored with Louis Theroux in recent years. His goofy, mock-naive persona was starting to get a little shop-worn, and I thought his Saville documentary was a little misjudged and overly defensive.
But My Scientology Movie is meaty and thought-provoking. As an investigative journalist, Louis was never going to get anywhere near to penetrating this most secretive of (alleged!) cults, but I think he knew that from the start.
Instead, he does what he has always done best. He hovers round the periphery and disarms people with his affability, patiently feeding them enough rope to tie themselves in knots. In the end, they come to him, to an extent. So we get scenes like an ex-enforcer for the Church, berating them for their heavy handed bully techniques, while failing to face up to the fact that he was key to developing those techniques in the first place. And Church security teams trying to see Louis and his team off by following them around and filming them, which Louis diffuses by just remaining bewildered and curious rather than intimidated.
As it’s a cinematic release with a slightly larger budget, the production standards are much classier than one of his Weird Weekend shows (nice graphics and decent music). It also has an interesting large(ish) scale experiment in which he hires actors to improvise some key anecdotal scenes in recent Scientology history. (This sounds a bit wishy washy, but it works).
As long as you don’t expect an in-depth, sustained attack on the organisation with a proper fact-digging investigation (there are other documentaries out there for that), you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.
The lingering feeling you’re left with is pity. This seems a very sad little Church filled with deluded people, struggling to maintain credibility in a cynical world, and clinging to the one thing that gives them any power – secrecy. Maybe Louis should do the Magic Circle next…
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
Basically, other Louis Theroux films. He’s a very unique presence.
Strangely, I think this might also appeal to fans of Paul Thomas Anderson as well. The strange intensity of Tom Cruise in some of the Church’s promo footage led me to speculating about where he might have gotten his Magnolia persona from. And the brainwashing/ programming scenes in The Master (itself a loose portrayal of Scientology and its place in the spiritually bereft American post-war landscape) turn out to be right on the money.