At long last, Louis Theroux has finally tackled the controversial Church of Scientology. Or, at least, he has attempted to.
My Scientology Movie is not a conventional documentary about Scientology, that much is certain. Louis begins his first feature-length documentary by outlining his failures in trying to get an audience with the Church itself. It comes as no surprise that they don’t take to journalists too kindly.
But Theroux isn’t deterred. By employing the help of various ex-Scientologists, Theroux and his team set out to cast actors to fill the roles of high-ranking members, such as leader David Miscavige, as well actor Tom Cruise.
We are then given a simulated insight into the inner workings of the Church, including a recreation of a violent outburst from Miscavige himself over keeping members in line. The Church, naturally, has denied this ever happening.
It may sound an odd premise for a documentary, focusing on simulated events, but when it comes to the infamous Church, it would appear that this is the closest any journalist will get to ever learning what truly goes on.
The Church is shrouded as much in mystery as it is controversy, and this ties in with the biggest criticism of Theroux’s documentary. It never provides a proper foundation of what Scientology is. Viewers with no former knowledge of the topic may leave still feeling a little confused.
Theroux does his best to explain things as they go along, such as the bizarre ranking system that dictates how close members are to achieving true enlightenment, as well as how much left they have to pay – which in most cases is far north of two-million dollars – as well as its equally peculiar beginnings with science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and life under the hard line Miscavige.
Theroux’s work is best viewed as a companion piece, instead of a definitive understanding. It may not provide the best window into Scientology, but it gradually reveals that the Church does indeed have a terrifyingly sinister side.
Theroux and his team of film-makers are repeatedly harassed by members of the Church. They begin to realise they might be the focus of private investigators, and are specifically targeted by letters from solicitors as well as members of the Church themselves in attempts to disrupt the documentary.
Pre-existing fans of Theroux will find enjoyment in his latest piece. There are classic Louis moments, where he asks hard-hitting questions with a deadpan expression whilst never failing to have a genuinely thoughtful response to both questions and insults alike.
My Scientology Movie is a great piece of investigative journalism. Whilst the bulk of the documentary focuses on casting the actors and learning about who they’re portraying through first-hand accounts of equally infamous figures, such as mafia-like ‘enforcer’ Marty Rathbun, Theroux is at his Teflon-like best, confronting current Scientologists, including a genuinely dangerous member of ‘Sea Org,’ an organisation who closer resemble a Stalinist paramilitary group than an off-branch of a religious establishment.
Theroux may not really explain what Scientology is, but he, quite damningly, unveils a glimpse of what may lie under the surface.