If you want proof that Scientology is a cult and not a religion then you should see the fascinating first-hand documentary, Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie. I say first hand because Louis Theroux is front and centre throughout. He wanted to get inside the so-called Church of Scientology and interview people associated with it. When he first proposed to do so via email, he was basically warned off and ignored by the church elders. Those emails are the starting point for this film.
Remember, of course, that the “church” was started by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Since his passing it has been run with an iron fist by David Miscavige, who is painted as a bully of the worst kind, a man adept at dishing out physical pain and mental torment. And that assessment doesn’t just come from any quarters, but from people who worked extremely closely with him for decades. Professing enlightenment, it is impossible to get past the notion that it is all about fleecing people to obtain as much money as they can to continue their crusade bigger and better than ever. They own their own production studio, which churns out colourful infotainment extolling the virtues of the church.
Theroux employs actors to assume the roles of Miscavige and the most renowned Scientologist, Tom Cruise. In the case of the former, various actors trying to fill the role deliver lines Miscavige has actually used. How do we know? Because of widely circulated vision of carefully orchestrated Scientology events, where he is seen at the podium.
The greatest insights are provided by Marty Rathbun, who was at one time one of the most senior executives in Scientology, the “Inspector General”. The moment anyone tries to leave the sect, they are denounced and often trailed, sometimes for many years. Rathbun is one such case. Mind you, as helpful as he is, he also shows clearly that he has a darker side. He also oversees one of the most shocking scenes in the doco, namely a session with actors playing the parts of executives of Scientology being humiliated and belittled by Miscavige. This is but one of several occasions that Theroux uses his actors to replay some incidents people claim they experienced as Scientologists … in an attempt to better understand the way the group operates.
One thing is clear, the church is paranoid about anyone who dares look into it. Theroux is literally followed by members of the church who film him while he is putting together his documentary. Legal letters fly left, right and centre; any “outsider” coming near the premises is watched and then prevailed about to leave the area immediately.
Theroux’s reenactment style may be unconventional, but the documentary certainly makes it mark and sits comfortably alongside Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief that came out last year. Theroux doesn’t show emotion, but asks some uncomfortable questions and keeps the camera rolling throughout his interchanges with Scientologists, actors and Marty Rathbun. If you don’t side against the church before you see this, I dare say you will afterwards.
You could argue Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie could have been more tightly edited, but it remains revelatory and, in large measure, engaging. Rated M, it scores a 6½ to 7 out of 10.
Director: John Dower
Cast: Louis Theroux
Release Date: 8 September 2016
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television