Tapping into Scientology’s darker side
Louis Theroux, a BBC documentary presenter who started out in Michael Moore’s TV Nation series and specializes in quizzical studies of American sub-cultures, turns his wry British eye to David Miscavige’s “church” in My Scientology Movie. While at times too caught up in his stunt-journalism conceit, Theroux does uncover a particular Los Angeles kookiness beneath the world’s most famous cult.
Theroux’s approach is far from the methodical exposé of Alex Gibney’s excellent Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015). He brings in Marty Rathbun—a ex-member turned outspoken opponent—to advise on reenactments of a Miscavige speech, a Scientology exercise, and a scene from the Scientology headquarter’s (Gold Base) “hole,” where Rathbun and others allege abuses took place. Theroux and Rathbun are followed and filmed around Los Angeles or San Jacinto (outside Gold Base, where Miscavige and many of the elite Sea Org live) by “church” members, sometimes vocally “squirrel-busting” Rathbun for his apostasy.
There’s a cult around celebrity and film-fame in Los Angeles that Scientology’s been tapping into for decades (Exhibit A: the group’s 2004 gala where Tom Cruise was awarded the Freedom Medal of Valor). From the start, where a woman walks by a hotel room where Theroux’s talking to Rathbun, then pops in to tell Theroux’s crew not to film her, only to explain she’s an actress—we’re falling down the rabbit-hole into La La Land.
Moments where Theroux’s crew films those filming Rathbun drop us into a hall of mirrors. The reenactments—especially the impressive ferocity of the actor playing Miscavige—brush another patina of un-reality over a group subscribing to founder L. Ron Hubbard’s mix of business jargon and pseudo-science—not to mention Thetans and engrams.
A little goes a long way with those reenactments, and Theroux’s Moore-style confrontations with Scientology officials outside the Gold Base become rote. The odd-couple comedy of him and Rathbun driving around Los Angeles palls, too. What lingers is the whiff of aggression around the ex-Scientologist—it seems the tactics of confrontation and attack have never left him.
Directed by John Dower
My Scientology Movie