“My Scientology Movie” Is More Quirky Introduction Than Evocative Revelation

Louis Theroux tries to get a better understanding of the Church of Scientology. Despite getting the door closed in his face, My Scientology Movie still proves to be an interesting documentary.

louis-theroux_my-scientology-movie_top10filmsLouis Theroux is a unique and highly likable brand, who disarms his subjects with a polite and, at times, goofy approach. On television his documentaries have tackled shocking groups like white supremacists and the Westboro Baptist Church, so the kooks heading the Scientology movement make a fitting new subject for the unassuming investigative journalist. The pairing of Theroux and Scientology pretty much guarantees an interested audience.

This is his first feature film, but unfortunately there is little to make it stand out from his other documentaries. Even Theroux’s abundance of politeness is unable to breakthrough the loyalist congregation. So the film adopts a central conceit of making a film about Scientology and casting their “supreme leader” David Miscavige and their most famous member, Tom Cruise. This approach is a sure-fire way to attract the attention of the Church of Scientology.

Their reaction is to make a counter documentary about the journalist himself. The final product is yet to be released, but don’t hold your breath. There is no denying that Theroux is the star here. His name is the reason most people will go to see the film and he does not disappoint. His unique blend of sincere politeness and awkward silences produces a number of candid and humorous encounters. There is very little discovery about the Church itself, but the journey of attrition in attempting to discover more is great to watch.

The defectors, including the most famous previous senior member, Marty Rathburn, do little to reassure you they are not still as barmy as the remaining members. The central pairing of Theroux and Rathburn become unnecessarily pivotal to the film’s structure. Rathburn does however fall foul of the ‘Theroux silence’ a number of times deciding to fill it with self-deprecating noise.

Louis Theroux's Big Screen Documentary Film About Scientology Nears Release

The film does land a punch on the audience when recreating the infamous “Hole”, an apparent prison for senior Scientologists. The depiction of bullying and manipulation on “Suppressive Persons” is difficult to watch. However, there still remains so much doubt behind the actual facts of the scenario.

Theroux talked about trying to avoid the third act deflation of many feature documentaries, but unfortunately fails to do so. It does feel like a limp over the finish line as the central premise is forgotten and the lack of any real revelation is disappointing, but the unintentional humour makes up for this. Theroux is often asking the names of those filming him and trying to goofily break down their guard. Despite having a permit he is told he is trespassing a number of times and his brief encounters with Scientologists, especially when he proclaims (very politely of course) “you don’t have to leave you’re not trespassing” are so ludicrous it is like a scene from a sitcom.

The original premise may get watered down and the revelations minimal, but fans of The Theroux Brand will not be disappointed.

my scientology movie three stars

Written by Lyndon Wells

louis-theroux_my-scientology-movie_top10filmsDirected by: John Dower
Written by: Louis Theroux
Starring: Louis Theroux, Mark Rathbun, Andrew Perez, Rob Alter, Jeff Hawkins, Tom De Vocht, Marc Headley, Steve Mango, Catherine Fraser
Released: 2015 / Genre: Documentary-Drama
Country: UK / IMDB
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About the Author
A film geek and cinephile masquerading as a Doctor, husband and father. With my dog Bilbo by my side I seek to prescribe a healthy movie experience through accurate diagnostics. Find me on Twitter: @lwellsfilm

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  1. Avatar
    Mark Fraser Reply

    I didn’t mind Theroux until I saw a TV doco he did about the US/Californian porn industry, in which he threatened a couple of interviewees that he might act in a porno, but never did. By the end it was obvious he was never ever going to do it, so why did he have to play the tease in the first place?

    Not that I really want to see Theroux in a porno. I just think he’s being a little disingenuous when he adopts the above-mentioned “goofy” persona.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      I’m a huge fan of Theroux. His oeuvre has evolved over the years from a time in his early career where he pushed that “goofy” image as part of his brand. That was around the time he did the first documentary – during the Weird Weekends strand of his BBC series – on the US porn industry (he has since returned to do another one during his post “goofy”-Louis period looking at the “twilight of the porn star” in which he adopts a more sobering approach akin to his work beginning in 2000 with his series “When Louis Met…”).

      During that original doc you mention he was getting more involved with his subjects on a superficial level (evidenced perhaps most famously by his run-in with WCW wrestlers who put him to the sword after he said their profession was just “make believe”).

      But I love his approach; successful because people don’t feel threatened by this investigative journalist, in part by his nerdy aloofness as well as his penchant for remaining non-judgmental, even when faced with some awful people (the Westboro Baptish Church, neo-nazis, paedophiles etc.) I think that persona gives him the opportunity to investigate some interesting subjects. Not necessarily subjects that others wouldn’t get access to but once he’s “in” he gets closer to his subjects than others which reveals more intimate detail about their particular beliefs, lifestyle, political view and profession without that guarded shield you see when faced with less subtle interviewers.

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    Nostra Reply

    Having watched Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief last year, made by Alex Gibny, I thought this documentary didn’t have as much impact and wasn’t as interesting in comparison. Sure, it has gotten some of the typical Theroux moments, but to me it just didn’t delve deep enough into the subject matter.

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