Though this is Louis Theroux’s first feature documentary, he is precisely the reasonable, endearing and familiar specimen that we’ve come to rely upon on the small screen. Nothing is lost in his style of journalism in the large film format. In fact, it’s enhanced.
Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie was created in collaboration with director John Dower and two-time Academy Award® winning producer Simon Chinn (Searching for Sugar Man, Man on Wire).
It helps if you enter this documentary with a firmly established (however sceptical) interest in the Church of Scientology, and have previously devoured other films on the subject, such as Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. It gives you a good point of comparison.
I took my father along, unsure of whether he would appreciate Louis Theroux’s unique interviewing style. However, he emerged from the cinema saying, ‘I like the way Louis Theroux doesn’t tell a story – he allows the story to tell itself.’
There are a few elements in this film that gave it instant appeal for me, from the style of the opening credits (which you will see in the trailer below) – the open chatter of social media commentary is effective and immediately draws viewers in.
‘I like the way Louis Theroux doesn’t tell a story – he allows the story to tell itself.’ – Dad
After being denied entry in to the Church of Scientology’s Los Angeles headquarters, Theroux sets about doing it ‘his way’, driven by the desire to fully understand what life is like inside the church.
One important thing to note is that Theroux sets out on this mission with the determination to remain neutral, giving the church every opportunity to tell its own story, keeping himself completely open to being convinced of the organisation’s allure and benefits. Yet at every turn he is locked out, resisted and confronted. His calm and logical technique often sees his subjects unravel themselves by saying too much, while he quietly watches.
At times there is a genuine awkwardness between Theroux and his main interviewee, former second-in-command at the Church, and Scientology’s most outspoken outcast, Mark ‘Marty’ Rathbun. Together they re-create some of Scientology’s most controversial behind-the-scenes moments with the help of some out of work actors. Watch out for an unnerving portrayal by Andrew Perez of David Miscavige the leader of the Church of Scientology.
If it’s Theroux’s intention to lay a trap for the surveilling teams engaged to harass and deter people from exposing church operations, he succeeds and it’s confronting, yet amusing to watch. Mid way through the film you start suspecting every single person Theroux and team come into contact with as being an undercover informant.
Rather than the documentary simply being a sinister handing down of alleged events relating to Scientology, with menacing music for effect, Theroux’s film plants someone we can relate to in the centre of the Church of Scientology’s world. It’s almost like one of your friends is inside the movie (that is, if you’re a sceptic).
My favourite moment comes towards the end of the film, when archival footage rolls of David Miscavige speaking at a glitzy Scientology event in 2011, with a music overlay of Wilhelm Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture, the same music that Hitler used to play as he rose to power. Dad and I agreed that the producers of the film had come to their own conclusion, and shared that conclusion subtly in their music selection. This is a must-see, intriguing documentary of one of the most beguiling, slick and thoroughly
controlling entertaining religions, ever to be written in history. You will leave the cinema feeling uplifted, confused, intrugued and free, with much to discuss over lunch.
♥♥♥♥ ⁄ 5
‘I find that the most inexplicable behavior is motivated by very relatable human impulses,’ comments Louis Theroux as he heads to Los Angeles for his feature documentary, in collaboration with director John Dower and double Academy Award winning producer Simon Chinn, exploring the Church of Scientology. Following a long fascination with the religion and with much experience in dealing with eccentric, unpalatable and unexpected human behavior, the beguilingly unassuming Theroux won’t take no for an answer when his request to enter the Church’s headquarters is turned down. Inspired by the Church’s use of filming techniques, and aided by ex-members of the organisation, Theroux uses actors to replay some incidents people claim they experienced as members in an attempt to better understand the way it operates. In a bizarre twist, it becomes clear that the Church is also making a film about Louis Theroux. Suffused with a good dose of humour and moments worthy of a Hollywood script, My Scientology Movie is stranger than fiction.
Watch the trailer:
© BRITISH BROADCASTING CORPORATION/BBC WORLDWIDE LIMITED 2015
Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie is in Australian cinemas from 8 September for ONE WEEK ONLY.
Update 14 September 2016: Due to popular demand, more cinemas and session dates have been added to the season for this film.
Click here for cinemas and session times.
Louis Theroux is coming to Australia: Louis Theroux embarks on a sold-out nationwide tour in September. Did you get a ticket?