Sunday 18 December 2016

My scientology movie

The world of documentary can be a really exciting one. As viewers of previous Louis Theroux documentaries will know already, he tends to avoid the typical format of the documentary, and instead bring something entirely different, and just a little bit surreal, to the table. 

Scientology has always had a bad name and, what with Tom Cruise, amongst other things, has been fairly present in the media. Despite this, it’s also remained quite untouchable – we hear certain things about it but there’s a real element of secrecy going on. Theroux’s aim with ‘My Scientology Movie’ is to demystify this strange organisation and its elusive chief David Miscavige to show what’s really going on.

In true Theroux style, he doesn’t just go with a simple narration of events – instead, Theroux gains the helps of Marty Rathbun, a previous enforcer of the organisation, and goes about recreating scenes that Rathbun himself had witnessed or experienced in order to gain more insight into how Scientology feels and works. It’s an interesting technique – because so much of Scientology is under wraps, it gives us, the viewers, a chance to experience what it feels like to see the cult in action. Due to the nature of the it all there’s a lot of random expression and strange activities going on, such as Louis thanking an ashtray in his loudest possible voice for sitting on a chair. At first it seems funny in a strange sort of way, but by the end it has becoming increasingly uncomfortable and sinister to watch.

Talking of sinister, we also see a lot of interaction from actual members of the organisation, who are really proving the negative parts of the religion that Theroux is trying to exhibit. Surveillance is a big part of Scientology and we see plenty of that from the very beginning – once a suspected mole reveals to the church that Theroux and Rathbun are up to something, the harassment begins, and becomes really a key feature of the documentary. These unscripted moments are probably the most chilling, as from our point of view they’re almost too ridiculous to believe.

What’s interesting is that Theroux doesn’t really provide much context about the organisation; I didn’t feel I actually learnt that much. The documentary is clearly more about experience than information – I can tell you the names of some of the key members but not really much about their beliefs, yet I have a much better understanding of how someone could become brainwashed in this way, and what it must feel like to leave something like that after extensive years of being a member. In a way this is more powerful than simply informing us of what Scientology is, and no doubt the feelings that I experienced during the documentary will stay with me longer than what small portions of information I did take in.

The only thing I didn’t really like about it all was that there was no resolve – I didn’t feel like anything had been achieved at the end of it. Despite experiencing so much emotion through Theroux’s scripted scenes there was no achievement against the crazed goings-ons, and each incident can still only be described as ‘alleged’. The documentary also ended on a bit of a negative note, showing some serious tension between both Theroux and Marty due to either Theroux’s sneaky style of journalism or Marty’s allegiances not being quite what they seem (I can’t comment on which one it was, but something was definitely not right), and so again this really added to the lack of resolution that one likes to experience in such programmes.

Despite this, ‘My Scientology Movie’ is a gripping insight into the world of Scientology and the sorts of things that potentially go on within it – just don’t expect to come away feeling better than when you started. 4/5


Hannah Read

My Scientology Movie at CeX

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