My Scientology Movie
by Hope Madden
Another documentary on Scientology? Is that religion really so endlessly fascinating?
There is just something about this cross-breed of spirituality, celebrity, science and greed that makes Scientology immediately intriguing.
And the backstory: a religion that reads like science fiction, developed (revealed?) by a science fiction writer, believed by many as the true and only possible answer to our deepest questions.
Plus celebrities, secrets and very, very suspicious behavior – it’s just hard to look away, and if a filmmaker can find a novel way of exposing the subject, then why not indulge?
Documentarian Louis Theroux brings his wry curiosity to the project, and the result is an uneven but surprisingly compassionate glimpse.
Theroux has a 20-year career with BBC defined by enmeshing himself with fringe populations from neo-Nazis to the Westboro Baptist Church and others. It is his uncanny charm and low-key curiosity that help him endear himself to his subjects and his audience.
The obstacle to any documentary on Scientology is access. You can’t get in. And there is a limit to the number of speculative outsider-looking-in docs that can be considered worthwhile.
What makes Theroux’s avenue into the story interesting is that he uses his lack of access to gain access, because one of Scientology’s curious customs is to combat any perceived threat of investigation. Paranoia is baked into their business model.
They send people out to follow, film and generally harass folks like Louis.
A good portion of Theroux and director Rob Alter’s doc captures the sound stage recreation of incidents – primarily those alleged abuses that have dogged Scientology leader David Miscavige. Theroux also interviews former church members, including one-time high-ranker Marty Rathburn.
So far, so ordinary.
But Theroux’s aim is to flush out the active Scientologists and document their behavior.
A lot can be gleaned from that behavior, and from Theroux’s more balanced investigation into the former church members who participate in his documentary.
We’re still left with so many aggravating holes that you have to rely more on being entertained than informed. Theroux’s affable persistence and comedic intelligence combine with his empathetic insights to offer enough difference that his look is worth the time.