My Scientology Movie

Review by Gabriela Helfet @helfetica

Directed by

John Dower

Starring

Louis Theroux Rob Alter Tom Cruise

Anticipation.

Therouxly enthused to infiltrate this Scientology fortress.

Enjoyment.

Worth a watch for the Jetsons-meets-Jesus Camp, legit instructional video clips alone.

In Retrospect.

An entertaining ride through the hoodoo, but it might be better suited as a multi-part doc.

The UK’s most cordial muckraker heads over to the US to look into the Church of Scientology.

What happens when you start drinking religious Kool-Aid? Well, if you’re a Scientologist, you essentially believe that the plot to Men in Black is real. Apparently we are all aliens inhabiting human shells, and dear ole planet earth is but a pit stop on the grand journey of our extraterrestrial existence. Sounds fun.

Unlike other religious camps, you have no personal Jesus to report your sins. Ain’t no heaven, nor hell. Instead, to make the most of this human skin dwell time, your mission is to become a member of the inner sanctum of the church – a Sea Org. How do you do this? Simple. Dedicate a hefty portion of your time, and most crucially, give a helluva lot of money to the operation. During this cash haemorrhaging adventure, you also learn how to channel your inner (alien) spirit, known as the Thetan, via various activities designed to penetrate deep into your true self.

Enter Louis Theroux – perhaps the world’s most endearing, sardonic documentarian operating today – on a mission to infiltrate Scientology’s iron-gated California HQ, and find out what’s up. From the off, the Church of Scientology reveals itself roughly as expected: a rigidly hierarchical, notoriously secretive world, surrounded by a sizeable halo of lawsuits and allegations of violence. While Theroux makes a handful of feeble attempts to ‘talk’ to the Scientologists he meets while filming, these disciples are excessively hostile in their unwillingness to interact with him, let alone have him sniffing around the perimeters of their hallowed locations with a camera.

Determined to shine a light on their practices, Theroux enlists the help of the self-proclaimed former “baddest ass dude in Scientology,” Mark Rathbun. A now-exiled member, Rathbun once ruled alongside the upper echelons of the church, reporting only to current Grand Poobah (not official title) David Miscavige. With Mark’s aid, actors are cast to portray the organisation’s most infamous characters, and re-enact its aggressive activities.

The spiel of Scientology alone, told via these theatrical tableaux directed under Mark’s tutelage, could have comprised a film in its own right. Watching Theroux’s ability to deploy his calm cool in the face of mad-eyed Scientologists who appear along the way is a delight, but also unsurprising. It’s an exploration that would be best suited to a multi-part series, where Theroux could spend time fleshing out the madness he unearths.

The most compelling moments in the film are exciting, unnervingly funny and wholly frightening – they are all moments with Mark. A seemingly casual chat while driving that turns sour in a nanosecond, where Theroux pushes Rathbun a step too far. A recreation of a Scientology interrogation technique, where Theroux disobeys Rathbun’s directions.

A drive that takes Rathbun that little bit too close to an infamous Scientology fortress, where the most devout and trusted Sea Orgs allegedly carry out their chilling techniques. And in these moments we witness glimpses of a man who seems capable of snapping a person’s neck while simultaneously erupting into hysterical laughter. Moments where Rathbun appears awash with drunken power after resurrecting his former activities. Moments where you feel uncomfortable because of how close Rathbun teeters to the edge of his unhinged precipice.

And this human seesaw we are privy to extends far beyond scientology, feeling especially weighty amid the current sociopolitical climate. As the world watches, in astonishment and disbelief, while millions become brainwashed by a figure like Donald Trump, a man who built an entire career upon ideas as absurd and unfounded as the Church of Scientology, many struggle to understand exactly how anyone can believe such nonsense. But that’s the thing… To reason with the indoctrinated is futile, because their devotion to a cause or religion defies rationality.

It is only in intimate portraits of someone like Mark Rathbun where we are able to witness just how powerful one man, one organisation, or one idea can become – discovering where their cracks and weaknesses lie, and how to stop them.

Published 4 Oct 2016

Tags: Louis Theroux Scientology Tom Cruise

Anticipation.

Therouxly enthused to infiltrate this Scientology fortress.

Enjoyment.

Worth a watch for the Jetsons-meets-Jesus Camp, legit instructional video clips alone.

In Retrospect.

An entertaining ride through the hoodoo, but it might be better suited as a multi-part doc.

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