Louis Theroux traces the fortunes of different people living in South London suffering from alcoholism. They include a 32-year-old man, a 45-year-old woman with an alcoholic boyfriend, an ... See full summary »
This is my review of My Scientology Movie (spoiler free)
MAKING A DOCUMENTARY about such an elusive subject like Scientology will always guarantee the filmmaker a decent sized audience. For instance maybe a small army of lawyers. Alex Gibney estimates that around 160 legal eagles watched last year's documentary Going Clear before its initial set release, and at times it's almost too hard to imagine that Louis Theroux's addition to L. Ron Hubbard's DVD cupboard wasn't given a similarly fine-toothed treatment. Although there are a few people most likely to goad at this litigious organisation than a man who's turned the tables on everybody from White Supremacists to Westboro Baptist's rabid flock just by asking the right questions, listening a lot and being disarmingly goofy and somewhat admirable. But while the BBC's mild-mannered assassin brings all of his weapons to bear here like awkward long silences, innocent but insistent probing, and using his vast reserves of likability however he somewhat meets his match with Scientology.
He is constantly bombarded by the organisations bug-eyed loyalists, threatened by its long list of lawyers and he is unable to get close to its leader David Miscavige, Theroux instead chooses to recreate its practices (and, more pertinently, malpractices) using young unknown actors he casts in sessions, with a little bit guidance from former Scientologists-turned feared whistleblower Mark Rathbun, and even the odd visit to its headquarters. Unfortunately unlike one of its inspirations, Joshua Oppenheimer's, The Act of Killing, Theroux's gambit is only half successful. As Oppenheimer's film featured real people recreating their own shocking acts of genocide; here Theroux's actors make willing surrogates, but they're no proper substitute for the access to the organisation itself. Although they do pull off a rather convincing recreation to the infamous Hole which is used as a prison for some of the more senior Scientologists (or sea orgs) where some of the more extreme allegation to abuse took place, however since then Miscavige has denied the allegations and the existence to The Hole. There is one scene when Theroux is put under a lie detector and Mark is stating that this technique would be used as part of the Scientology agreement, it's a way that Miscavige would look into your memories and see if you really belong to be part of the church.
Theroux travels all around Los Angeles learning about the recklessness of Scientology and what kind of place it really is even with top Hollywood actor Tom Cruise played pretty convincingly by Rob Alter, who has pretty much the same smile and repeating lines from the real Tom Cruise archive footage which Rarthbun was so eager to show, when Theroux learns some of the key phrases and acronyms from Scientology. There are a few times when Theroux tries to investigate some of the key sites that are part of the organisation but he is told to leave the premises as he is trespassing and told to drive off a mile away from their road, even though the road in question was a public freeway. But these Scientologists felt threatened by his presence. There is one moment when he meets Tom de Vocht one of the more senior members of the group and he calls it a cult and Theroux learns that he was abused almost every day for 31 years as he was a part of the church throughout the second act Theroux learns about all these techniques one of which called squirrel busting, and he is eager to try out this technique were there will be many abusive words used, and other members laughing as they try it. Throughout the movie it has some funny moments, mostly with the squirrel busting, however Mark was ambushed by other members who were squirrel busting him, and yet again Miscavige tried denying that his members do that as a harassment technique.
During the engaging third act of the film Theroux learns that Rathbun has a very dark secret that he was one of the top members of the group and he learns that he was a much feared individual as at some points with the group he would help Miscavige with the abuse, which can be shown as he argues with Theroux after he is harassed by yet another few Scientology members who abuse him. Also Theroux reads a statement that Rathbun wrote about the group filled with some rather aggressive words against the church. Ultimately My Scientology Movie has very engaging and entertaining moments mixed with some sort of funny moments all together stitched up with some clever dialogue and a lot of research all though it would have been nice if we could meet the real David Miscavige this is a movie he may never see, it's a very intriguing documentary that sometimes fails to deliver at some other points.
VERDICT: Theroux's first big-screen doc is an entertaining affair peppered with surreal moments and wry wit; but unfortunately its elusive screwed up elusive subject is out of reach.
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