While I for one am immensely disappointed that Louis Theroux hasn’t undertaken any projects entitled ‘Louis Theroux the Looking Glass’, I’m quite happy to watch everything else he comes out with until he wakes up to the brilliance of that title.
My Scientology Movie delivers a good dose of tried and tested Louis Theroux style, with some added twists. Those who have watched Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends will recognise his flippant open-mindedness in exploring a world entirely new to him, with one obvious exception – the refusal of access by the Church of Scientology. To get around this problem, Louis has interviewed and worked closely with ex-Scientologists Mark ‘Marty’ Rathbun, Jeff Hawkins, and Mark Headley, to cast LA actors Andrew Perez and Rob Alter as David Miscavige, charismatic and reportedly abusive leader of the Church of Scientology, and Tom Cruise, the Church’s so-called poster boy.
The result is a documentary that has elements of most previous no-access Scientology movies, featuring camera shots of barbed-wire fences with KEEP OUT signs, re-enactments of events detailed by whistleblowing ex-members, and the sinister attempts engaged in by the Church to discourage the movie’s production. It achieves all this without coming across as cheap; it’s still an authentic, investigative documentary, true to form from the nation’s second-favourite documentary-ist (hats off to Attenborough for the number one spot). Tied together with a brilliant, if deafening, musical score that succeeds in bringing you to the desired height of unease, and devil’s advocate statements from the Church refuting effectively the whole documentary, the movie is hard to categorise as any one genre.
Ultimately, the movie is funny. It’s hilarious, and that’s something I didn’t expect when I went in. It is highly unsettling in places but the direction, and the brilliance of Louis’ timing in questioning, serve to alleviate the build-up of tension with authentic comic relief.
In the Q+A, with Adam Buxton hosting the director, John Dower and the man himself, Louis Theroux, Dower reveals that during one encounter with Scientologist Catherine Fraser, she managed to ‘get Louis’ dander up’ (cue excellent remark from Adam Buxton about seeing Louis’ dander in a resting position). This scene is presented in quite a different way and makes for one of the most amusing of the movie, but also one that highlights the metaphorical and physical barbed-wire topped fence surrounding the Church of Scientology, which is the whole point of the movie.
Having just watched Theroux’s introspective and hard-hitting Savile documentary, I was a bit worried that this would have equally sinister undertones, that perhaps we’d seen a turning point in style to a darker Louis. While My Scientology Movie is serious and the re-enactment scenes in The Hole, conversations with Marty, and the surveillance techniques of the Church are quite unnerving, and promise to stay with you for a while, the whole package manages to preserve Louis’ style of serious fun. You might remember his closing line of Weird Weekends first episode ‘UFOs’; ‘whatever gets you through the cosmic void is alright by me, just don’t lay a finger on my rectum.’ My Scientology Movie embodies the same tongue-in-cheek style, despite the much more serious subject matter, and whilst giving you a lot to think about, succeeds in delivering a fresh investigation into an established mystery.