Coming to theatres and to VOD today, Friday, March 10:
MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE
BFI London 2015
Hot Docs, Sheffield, Docville, Tribeca, Revelation, Reykjavik, Mill Valley, Austin
British journalist Louis Theroux attempts to understand the Church of Scientology.
Theroux had long hoped to gain access to higher-ups in Scientology with the hopes of gaining insight to the controversial religion. Unsurprisingly, the secretive organization declined to participate, so the intrepid journalist instead sought out ex-members. Using their experiences, as well as leaked, official recordings of church galas and interviews as source material, he sets out to film dramatic re-enactments of various church practices and particularly disturbing accusations of brainwashing as a means of understanding the religion from within. What he stages is in large part due to the involvement of Marty Rathbun, perhaps the highest placed former Scientology figure to publicly renounce the religion. Rathbun, of course, also appears in Alex Gibney’s Emmy-winning GOING CLEAR, a more in-depth and straightforward investigation into the church, and one to which this invariably must be compared. Theroux’s film is a more convoluted affair, with the re-enactments, or the edification they’re intended to provide, never really quite gelling. There are moments of intriguing paranoia – a fame-seeking actress interrupting an initial interview, the production being followed by a white car, a hapless Scientologist attempting to film Theroux’s activities only to accuse him of harassment – and intense confrontations with Scientologists using “bull baiting” and “squirrel busting” techniques to try to intimidate (or in their view, defend themselves) Theroux or Rathbun, but ultimately not much that hasn’t been seen before. Perhaps recognizing this – and tacitly acknowledging the challenge of making headway when his subject, the current leadership of the Church of Scientology, refuses to participate – Theroux turns his attention to the prickly Rathbun and the extent of his past involvement in the morally suspect activities he now aims to expose. The friction that results is diverting, but, again, not particularly revelatory.