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 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.
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.