My brother once signed me up to a Scientology mailing list as a joke. Which likely goes to show how the religion is viewed by outsiders – as something not to be taken seriously. A fairly new religion, which uses the writings of a science fiction author as the basis for its principles. Bizarre, right? Well, yes. Indeed it is.
To this day I sporadically receive “informative” pamphlets and “gripping” DVDs through my letterbox courtesy of the Church of Scientology. Lucky me. I’ve had a good read over said information, and it’s certainly interesting. If it’s what you choose to place your faith in, then that’s fine, of course. Believe what you want to believe in, but it’s not for me. And neither, it seems, is it for mainstay BBC documentarian Louis Theroux, who takes a dive into the world of what some have called a “cult” in his first feature film, My Scientology Movie.
It’s a world that proves to be nothing short of crackers. It is, in fairness, a firmly one-sided look at the religion, but even so…crackers. Having said that, the incredibly hostile reaction of those within the organisation is somewhat understandable, what with their systems being attacked. But surely you have to draw a line somewhere? And that line probably should be a fair distance before harassment and abuse. Which is what Theroux manages to uncover a lot of. For their part, the Scientologists don’t really help themselves, refusing to tell their side of the story, constantly trying to shut the documentary down, and just generally acting so shady that it actually ends up becoming quite humorous.
The closeted nature of the institution and the secrecy of its practices make it difficult for balance to be brought to the outlook of the film. It works to the detriment of the Church being taken seriously that its biggest claim to fame seems to be that the regularly mentioned Tom Cruise is a member, and so does the fact that it simply doesn’t have the storied history of longer standing religions. But despite Theroux’s offer to provide a platform for them to put across their point of view, it’s one which is not accepted.
The religion’s departed disciples and employees who are interviewed instead prove to be intriguing nonetheless, even if their turbulent exits from the Church put into doubt whether they are disclosing everything from their pasts. Partly because they’re still watched ever closely by the Church. But also because they had a hand in their fair share of misdeeds whilst on the job, which they’re clearly not proud of. The best example of which would be the former Inspector General of the organisation, Marty Rathbun, who is central to Theroux’s investigation. Whilst he divulges stacks of information, I still got the sense that there was more to dig into with him. Theroux instead puts Rathbun in recreations of encounters from his previous position near the top of the Church’s hierarchy, with actors playing the roles of his old colleagues, as well as Scientology’s reportedly aggressive leader, David Miscavige. The idea is to bring Rathbun back into his previous headspace, but it ends up being the most contrived aspect of the documentary, a forced situation set up with a specific reaction in mind.
Missteps aside though, it’s a fascinating subject, looked at with plenty of wit. Lots of which comes from Theroux. And lots from the puzzling folks over at the Church of Scientology.
Rating (out of 5):
My Scientology Movie is available now on We Are Colony.