Like most 90s kids in a Netflix Age, I am a Louis Theroux fangirl who adores that viral video of him dancing to ‘Groove Is In The Heart’. However, there is a more profound reason behind booking tickets for the sold-out screening of My Scientology Movie at Tyneside Cinema.
Just over a year ago I embarked on the trip of a lifetime and spent 10 days in Los Angeles. Whilst this short stay didn’t give me enough time to delve deep into the weird and wonderful world of Hollywood, it did provide me with an hour long education at the Scientology Celebrity Centre International, a cornerstone of the Church which features in Louis’ new film. Let me assure you this was enough to drive me insane, and I hoped My Scientology Movie would make sense of my bizarre near-conversion.
Little did I know that merely entering the ornate Celebrity Centre committed us to the Church (as Louis explained in the live Q&A following his film), and that Scientologists inflate their membership figures by counting anyone who enters a church as a member. The next thing I knew, I was participating in ‘auditing’, a practice which ex-Scientologist Marty Rathbun subjects Louis to in the film. After leaving the centre, I was more confused than clear on what Scientology actually is. Louis Theroux’s documentary had a similar effect on me. The movie is heavily concerned with the complexities of its protagonist Rathbun rather than with the cult of Scientology itself.
"director john dower turned down the film's proposal three times, due to no expectations of accessing its subject"
My Scientology Movie’s biggest success is its analysis of Marty and what it reveals about him. Although he defected from the Church in 2004, there is relish in Marty’s reminisces. He seems proud of his brutal past as the ‘biggest badass in Scientology’ and Louis concludes that ‘Marty has left Scientology, but Scientology hasn’t totally left Marty’. Forbidden from entering Scientology, Louis and his team tried to understand its world by casting actors to channel creepy church leader David Miscavige and Scientology’s most famous follower, Tom Cruise. This unreachable religion is examined through re-enactments on a set and in this sense, the film willingly succumbs to Hollywood which makes it all the more convincing.
Director John Dower had been wary of the difficulty of getting to the crux of Scientology from the outset, as he turned down Louis’s proposal three times. However, when asked by an audience member at the Southbank Centre in London if he considered the film to be a failure, Louis said no, as he’d entered the project fully expecting no access to the Church or to Miscavige. In this respect, the film is similar to Louis’ 2003 documentary Louis, Martin & Michael, in which he investigates Michael Jackson without meeting him.
All in all, Louis’ use of Twitter to reach out to Scientologists places this documentary in the 21st century, but it still retains the charm of his Weird Weekends series. Scientology’s surveillance of those daring to get too close is mocked by Louis, as he persistently and hilariously interrogates scientologists filming him. Word on the street is that the Church is using this material to produce its own documentary on Louis Theroux, so we can look forward to that as a follow up.
More like this: The Master (2012)