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Documentary maker Louis Theroux explores the myths and realities of Scientology
By Liam Bodle
Image: Flat Creek Films/BBC Worldwide
Reaching out through Twitter seemed to be a logical starting place for Louis Theroux’s new BBC produced documentary film about the mysterious religion, Scientology. Not much is known about the Scientology movement, formed in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbart who died in 1986. However, Theroux, through Twitter, got a feel, through a flood of tweets that feature in the film’s opening, of what people’s views towards this enigma are. More importantly he reached out to people who might help him in unravelling the truth behind Scientology.
Theroux is unfortunate as he is not given any permission to interview any of the current members or leaders, or have access to their facilities, in particular the Celebrity Centre in L.A. Louis reaches out however to a former Scientology enforcer Marty Rathbun, who is now hated and disregarded from the church for betraying them. Theroux also used actors who will, under the influence of Rathbun, be taught how to simulate and embody members of Scientology including its most famous recruit Tom Cruise.
As the film develops, with its blockbuster soundtrack and quick editing, it turns into something more familiar but also unexpected. In one scene, we have Theroux and Rathbun discussing the beatings of members they would have in ‘the hold’ for suppressive behaviour when they discover that they are in fact being followed and have been for quite some time in a car with blackened out windows. The film’s audience might then start to ask itself: Is Louis Theroux really safe?
In the film, there are some incredibly conflicting, if not convoluted, performances from the actors, who at times seem to embody the members of the church. In particular actor Andrew Perez who plays the Chief and sinister villain David Miscavige. We see him on set with actors performing a pep talk that turns nasty. We see him at one point asking one of the actors to lick the floor and another to crawl around the room like an animal.
He himself at times found it hard to switch out of character. As Scientology states the human body is only a vessel, had in fact David Miscavige heard Theroux’s calling and actually possessed the body of actor Andrew Perez? This is something that Rathbun questioned himself. Was there more to this organisation than celebrity endorsements and selling books?
If this wasn’t enough we also find an already traumatised Rathbun confronted outside the film’s base by some Scientology hitmen. Theroux uses this to confront the members but gets nothing more than insults thrown back at him. After this, Rathbun is questioned by Theroux about what had just happened, Rathbun lets out his anger and frustration on the filmmaker, making for uncomfortable but compelling viewing that shows how what was a documentary about Scientology has become more about the relationship between these two men.
How does Scientology really work and how does it audit its members? Is it just a pyramid scheme selling ideas to people who have found it difficult to find their place in the world? It’s hard to say but, given the $50,000 price tag one ex member spent, it would seem possibly the latter.
My Scientology Movie does its best to explore the facts, however silly the direction seems to go at times, and despite the repetition of archive clips sometimes slowing the pacing of the film. However, this film definitely does leave you leaving the cinema wanting to know more. My Scientology Movie 2 anyone?
Liam Bodle is a postgraduate journalism student. His interests include film, gaming and writing about LGBTQI issues. Find him on Twitter @liambodle