The church of Scientology has remained a pop culture fascination for several decades, constantly prominent in our minds because of high profile followers such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Louis Theroux, familiar with documenting and deconstructing the bizarre and the delusional, approaches the subject at a very particular angle. When Theroux struggles to gain access to any members of the religion he sets about making his own film, casting an array of actors as the church’s prominent figures and faces. Theroux, who has tackled a vast range of subjects during his career as a documentary maker, is capable of bringing out both the stupidity and the seriousness in his subjects – sometimes both. In just the last few weeks Theroux graced British TV screens with troubling and moving studies of alcoholism and brain injury. My Scientology Movie is a nice diversion from the sombre to the sarcastic. Even in the film’s introductory narration, we can sense the twinkle in his eye as we witness footage of a Scientology conference in all its glamour and absurdity. With the help of ex-members of the church, Theroux sets about casting a fictional film, inspired by the controversial belief system. It’s not long before cast and crew find themselves the target of harassment and hostility from various strangers who refuse to identify themselves.
My Scientology Movie is a smart and satisfying observation of a mysterious institution and its somewhat sinister leader, David Miscavige. There are twists and turns along the way but we’re always safe in the comfort that Theroux, in all his awkward wisdom, appears in control – playing the church at their own game and enticing them to interact with him in any way he can. My Scientology Movie is a well-rounded and experimental examination of a baffling regime which refuses to let strangers in and members leave. Te documentary is a brilliant balance of several things; the reflections of ex-members, archive footage of the church’s recruitment material, caricatured interpretation of the celebrities and leaders at the church’s heart and confrontations with the church themselves who seem determined to film and follow Louis and his team wherever they go. There is a lot of similarity here with The Most Hated Family in America – Theroux’s documentary about the idiotic Westboro Baptist Church; not in subject matter, but in pure obscurity. There is humour aplenty present, (the film is at its most hilarious when we watch Theroux and the cast of actors attempt the practices and techniques that Scientology use) but there are also moments of real concern and nastiness. Theroux is dry and straight-faced – a sharp contrast to the eccentric individuals around him. My Scientology Movie is delightfully amusing and pokes fun at an organisation which clouds itself in cult-like mystery whilst simultaneously invading the privacy of anyone who they believe to be putting them under a microscope.
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