Arguably Louis Theroux’s greatest asset as a documentarian is his ability to “not get involved”, to take a step back from his subjects and let events unfold. His style is unobtrusive and delicate. Take a look back at some of his older documentaries and notice he has a talent for giving his interviewees space, allowing them, effectively, to make idiots of themselves with little or no encouragement. It’s a running theme of his that he focuses on the wilder and stranger sides of humanity, interviewing bigots, swingers, porn stars, wrestlers and weirdos alike. Theroux has a knack of giving his odd subjects just enough rope to let them hang themselves and it’s a style he employs the good effect in this feature-length study: My Scientology Movie.
As a proviso, anyone looking for hard truths unveiled here should look elsewhere. My Scientology Movie doesn’t really unravel anything that you won’t probably already know if you’re familiar with Going Clear, John Sweeney’s Scientology and Me or any writing on the church. But Theroux’s film remains an intriguing watch as it’s really not a movie about Scientology, but a movie about not being able to make a movie about Scientology.
From the outset, Theroux found himself thwarted by the church, tailed by church spies and facing constant brick walls in his quest to engage with members of the congregation. As the movie eloquently points out, Scientology is and will remain a completely closed shop and My Scientology Movie (an ironic title) focuses on Theroux’s failure to crack the most tantalising nut. Theroux documents all this, including the farcical run-ins with Scientology enforcers and allows the pantomime-esque comedy to play out in his usual languid style.
The bulk of the film sees Theroux teaming with ex-Scientology “fixer” Mark Rathbun to recreate, through the method of dramatic reconstruction, some of the more bizarre alleged antics of Scientology head honcho David Miscavige. It’s pretty farcical stuff, but deliberately so. Theroux’s movie relies on the fact he’s getting nowhere fast through official Scientology channels, resorting to scratching and scraping at the margins as he tries to look in from the outside.
As an expose, it’s certainly slight, but it remains completely compelling and frequently hilarious viewing due to Theroux’s laissez-faire style and the absurd way in which events unfold.
[rating=4] | Chris Banks
Documentary | UK, 2015 | 15 | Altitude FIlm Entertainment | 8th October 2016 (UK) |Dir.John Dower | Louis Theroux