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My Scientology Movie


Stars: Louis Theroux, Mark "Marty" Rathbun, Andrew Perez, Rob Alter, Jeff Hawkins, Tom De Vocht, Marc Headley, Steve Mango, Catherine Fraser

Director: John Dower

For once a film funded by both the BBC (paid by television licencees) and the BFI (lottery money) is really worth seeing now rather than waiting for it to be recycled on the small screen.

It must have seemed that Alex Gibney’s excoriating Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015) left little room for more exposes of science fiction storyteller-turned-messiah L Ron Hubbard’s invented religion Scientology,

Not so!

Here Louis Theroux’s oddball approach to the subject, combining staged sequences with documentary film footage as he, director John Dower and their crew stalk Scientologists and their strange secrets.

The resulting film “It’s a device that measures thoughts” is both funny and chilling and compelling, too.

Unsurprisingly celebrated Scientologist Tom Cruise (who doesn’t appear to look up to Scientology supremo David Miscavige, which is not that surprising since they both seem to be the same height) doesn’t appear here, except in footage from over-excited Scientology meetings that resemble hysterically staged Hollywood award ceremonies and in some excerpts from archive television interviews.

It occurred to us,” states Theroux, “that the “Hollywood” character of Scientology – its recruitment of actors; its use of Tom Cruise as a role model and poster boy; its dissemination through glossy promotional films – might be the key to making our film”.

And so, to telling effect, he and Dower audition actors to play Miscavige and Cruise in effective recreated dramatic sequences.

Result - Andrew Perez is a convincingly scary Miscavige and Rob Alter is an appropriately bland Cruise stand-in

The recreation of the cult’s bizarre brain-washing-style induction process ‘auditing’ employing a sort of lie detector(“It’s a device that measures thoughts”) is both scary and, unless you were an aspirant inductee, more than a tad ludicrous.

But the chilling sequence depicting Miscavige physically humiliating aberrant cult members in the punishment room known as the ‘Hole’ is truly terrifying as an exhibition of the ineffectiveness of members of the cult when faced with all-powerful ‘commanders’ determined to enforce all that Scientology demands of its members.

(We know we’re in Tinsel Town since, during the filming of a discussion between Theroux and former cult second-in-command/enforcer Marty Rathbun, a young woman sporting a bikini sees the camera and offers her services to the movie: like so many Los Angeles residents, she turns out to be an aspirant actor sensibly seizing an opportunity which, sadly for he, proves fruitless).

Cult escapee Rathbun (“I was the baddest-ass dude in Scientology”) proves to be an invaluable guide although, as the film progresses, his relationship with Theroux becomes increasingly strained as Scientologists start to strike back at the filmmakers.

With Theroux and his crew refused access to the Scientologist headquarters in Los Angeles and strangely threatened by a British law firm, Theroux interviews various former Scientologists. One, who was told, “Your happiness is a course away”, tells the filmmaker he spent some $50,000 on books and other necessities for the course before quitting.

When Rathbun warns, “This is not a minor game we’re playing”, he is proved all too accurate when Scientologists - known as ‘squirrel busters’ - start hounding filmmakers and it becomes clear that Theroux and Co. have been marked as stars of a scientology movie.

Which, one could suppose, is appropriate since Hubbard directed movies in this own Golden Productions film studio.

The most telling confrontation with Theroux approaches a base where, allegedly, errant Scientologists were reprimanded only to be blocked by a ‘Road Closed’ sign.
Scientologists unexpectedly turn up, challenge Theroux and Co. to leave, informing them that the “closed’ road is a private road.

It wasn’t.
And the confrontation ends memorably with Theroux and the invaders in a filming duel with each other.

Theroux’s approach is patently more lighthearted than was Gibney’s.

That said, ‘My Scientology Movie’ with its deceptively relaxed but all too often enjoyably skewed and below the belt approach to its subject makes riveting viewing.

Alan Frank

UK/USA 2015. UK Distributor: Altitude Film Distribution. Colour.
99 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 07 Oct 2016