Louis Theroux has made a name for himself as a documentarian who remains stone faced and unwavering in spite of meeting some of the most hateful, prejudiced, and weird people the world has to offer. He has spent time with Nazis, paedophiles, porn stars, and the Westboro Baptist Church. His cool headedness is laudable. But how does he stand up in the face of one of the most controversial and litigious ‘religions’ in the world?
One of the greatest features of the film is that, quite often, he doesn’t. Many of the key figures in the ‘church’ are unreachable. Theroux works around this by casting actors to play some of the more notorious members of Scientology.
Sometimes, restrictions and limitations can be the driving force behind great art. That is certainly true of My Scientology Movie. The filmmakers’ inability to access current Scientologists has enabled them to create a film within a film. With the guidance of former Scientology members, re-enactments of violence and madness are performed by actors on a set, and Scientology’s dirty laundry is aired for all the world to see. Andrew Perez plays the ‘church’s’ manic and controlling leader, David Miscavige, while Rob Alter plays Scientology’s golden-boy, Tom Cruise.
The re-enactments are amazing in their absurdity, and should they exist in a vacuum, they would be perceived as a sort of satirical art. A commentary on the pitfalls of religion and blind belief – a portrayal of what can happen when small people like David Miscavige have great power. But these scenes don’t exist in a vacuum. They are presented alongside accounts of the horror former members endured at the hands of Miscavige, and footage of the relentless hounding and harassment people face when they even remotely offend the ‘church’.
The Scientologists in the film (who often appear when accosting the cast and crew on the street) are belligerent in their self-righteousness, and the only thing that makes them tolerable is the quiet and calm manner in which Theroux deals with them.
My Scientology Movie is beautifully shot, well written and wonderfully put together. But still, Theroux is the MVP. His patience and wit offset the abrasive nature of the people and their ‘church’ so that audiences can put their frustrations aside and unpack the information being given to them as calmly as he does.
My Scientology Movie is as funny and insightful as it is terrifying, and reminds us how dangerous belief can be.
The film takes an unconventional approach to the subject matter, featuring young actors “auditioning” for parts playing high-profile Scientologists in scenes recreating accounts from ex-members about incidents involving senior church management. The Church of Scientology responded by putting the filmmakers under surveillance and denouncing the movie.