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Film Review: My Scientology Movie

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★★★★☆

Making a documentary about the shadowy “religion” of Scientology is always a project with a high chance of failure (at least in the traditional sense of documentary film-making).

The Church is notorious for not speaking to journalists, extremely secretive and aggressive in the shutting down of information spread about their beliefs and practices. So from the off the question has to be ‘why would Louis Theroux want to make a doc on these guys?’

There are numerable documentaries, including the recently released Going Clear, already doing this job in many different forms and this is where My Scientology Movie falls down in that it largely adds very little new information Scientology debate, but that would be to judge it harshly.

Returning to the hap-hazard, but charming style of his Weird Weekends this isn’t so much a movie about Scientology but more a tale of a man trying to make a documentary about it, and it is in this field that Theroux truly excels, bringing his inquisitive charm to the interrogation of the Church.

The filmmakers have also utilised some unique ideas to create a sense of the Church, namely reconstructions of the behaviour of Church leader David Miscavige, which help the film to deal without access to the Church itself, providing a sense of the reality of being on the inside and the (alleged) abuses people are suffering.

In many ways this is the most human documentary on the subject taking real time and effort to delve into the lives, mind-set and feelings of the members (all ex-members, as no current members are allowed to talk to journalists) in a way that doesn’t feel judgemental.

Louis’s relationship with Marty Rathbun, former Inspector General of the Church of Scientology and prominent detractor of his former religion, lays bare the complexities of leaving an organisation that controls every aspect of your life and also the personal turmoil of feelings of remorse, guilt and anger. Rathbun is an integral part of the story, acting as an advisor throughout and helping formulate the reconstructions and candidly expressing his feelings on his time in the Sea Org (the select order of the Church's highest members).

Whilst there is the expected tension and intimidation we have all come to expect from Scientologists, it is the tensions within Rathbun, and in his exchanges with Theroux, that form the core of the movie. Rathbun is a conflicted character, with an ever-changing state and throughout gives the impression he is not revealing all about his part in the Church. In the end Rathbun is the key to understanding what Scientology is, but also indicative of how it operates – from the other side of the coin you get the impression he might be spinning his own narrative to fit an agenda, just like the Church.

Is Rathbun simply running from the skeletons in his own Scientology closet? Other members of the Church had flat out refuted his claims. The point is that we will probably never know, but other contributors, at ease with Theroux’s charming interview style, offer an array of candid memories of their time in the Sea Org.

My Scientology Movie is strange in that it raises more questions than it answers, but the questions it does ask are vital in moving this discussion forward.

Aside from this it is genuinely entertaining, hilarious and thought-provoking throughout and is as such a real crowd-pleaser, and whilst it's far from being Theroux’s best work, it is a movie that, really, only he could have successfully pulled off with the level of success it has.

If you want a documentary to properly explain the machinations of the Church of Scientology you will be disappointed, but if you want to see Louis Theroux in his element this is an absolute must see.

My Scientology Movie is out now in the UK. 

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