With iconic filmmaker Louis Theroux at the helm, this was never going to be a truly straight look at the California based demi-cult. But following a decade of deeper, darker material that’s seen him covering alcoholism, brain injury and terminal illness, My Scientology Movie sees something of a return to the wacky vibe of Theroux’s breakout Weird Weekends series.
There, the deadpan Englishman dug into the depths of American subcultural traditions and customs – from porn and aliens to bodybuilding and swinging – letting its proponents dig their own holes, often to hilarious effect. This documentary does exactly that, with much of the humour lying in Theroux’s extreme lack of access to the very thing he’s attempting to make a movie about.
The film opens with Theroux explaining that despite repeatedly approaching the Church of Scientology, his requests to film or speak to a representative have consistently been denied. Not that something as trifling as that would put Theroux off. Instead he enlists former senior church member Marty Rathbun to offer insights into their dealings and the pair begin to construct their own version of the Church, casting LA actors in the roles of Tom Cruise and church leader David Miscavige. However, discussions with Rathbun about allegations of abuse in the church are unsettling, as is Rathbun’s personal response when Theroux questions him about his own involvement in the more sinister aspects of the religion.
Less troubling are the highly amusing caper-esque portions of the film, in which Theroux attempts to gain access to a Scientology HQ outside of LA and discovers that the church is making a film about him. “If you look into us, we will look into you 10 times as much and make your life too miserable to continue what you’re doing,” explains Rathbun of the Church’s approach to those trying to investigate them. The fact that Theroux doesn’t give a s**t makes this essential viewing.