At this point, The Church of Scientology has been the subject of many a documentary, so it is refreshing to see a film take a new spin on the subject matter the way John Dower’s My Scientology Movie does.
UK documentarian Louis Theroux writes and stars in this new investigation into the world of Scientology. Rather than focusing on uncovering all the details about this mysterious religion, Theroux and Dower approach the topic by exploring what might encourage people to stay in the kind of environment that The Church of Scientology allegedly creates for those in the inner circle. To do this Dower and Theroux enlist the help of former senior executive of the church Marty Rathbun to make a small-scale film, recreating some of the events that Marty and other church executives claim to have experienced.
While this approach at first seems a little gimmicky, as the film progresses it slowly makes more and more sense. As Theroux and Rathbun start casting the film, Rathbun is forced to explain to actors how they might be feeling in the scenes they are reading. As these scenes are based on Rathbun’s personal experiences we start to see this former Scientologist get back into the mindset he was in when he was embroiled in this world. As Theroux and Rathbun go on to recreate some of the church’s peculiar practices we witness more and more how Rathbun might have operated in that environment and gain some possible insight into what kept him in the system for so long. While this filming process is the main narrative of My Scientology Movie, the story also opens up to include other former Scientologists’ stories, Theroux’s attempts to explore forbidden locations and the struggles of the actors to play real people such as Tom Cruise and the controversial church head David Miscavige.
My Scientology Movie is a delight to watch. It is hilarious and thought provoking in equal measure and has a quirky character brought out in its fun, fast-paced editing and the sincere but obstinate manner in which Louis Theroux conducts the proceedings.
The only real flaw of the film is the mammoth task with which it has presented itself. The Church of Scientology is so secretive and the people involved so emotionally scarred, either by society’s scrutiny or the Church itself, that it’s hard to discern what is fact and what is cover story. Theroux and Dower seem to imply in the film that Ratbun, and possibly all its subjects are not necessarily to be trusted in their account of events, as they were so deep in a different world that their perspective may still be skewed to this day. It’s possible that any documentary taking on the topic of Scientology will come up short. The whole story seems to be a mountain and any one film can only ever chip away at the base, trying to uncover a few nuggets of insight.
Regardless, My Scientology Movie is a pleasure to experience and will definitely entertain as well as leaving viewers with a lot to think about.