“Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie” (2016)
Running Time: 109 minutes
Presented by: Louis Theroux
Featuring: Louis Theroux, Tom Cruise, Rob Alter, Paz de la Huerta, Tom De Vocht Jefferson Hawkins, Marc Headley, Steven Mango, Marty Rathbun
“When you don’t have access to a subject and all you have is ex-members and critics, there is this gravitational pull toward telling a certain version of events,” Theroux said. “Scientology would say this, and they have a point, that it’s like doing a portrait of a marriage in which you’re only hearing from the ex-wife and not the ex-husband. So as a journalist it’s this nagging feeling that I’m not getting the full picture.”
Louis Theroux’s latest documentary “Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie” (2016), is his attempt at examining the Church of Scientology and is also his move to the big screen. Theroux’s previous documentaries have been shorter and more tightly focused, and so it is with mixed results that this latest one lands but is not a definite bull’s-eye.
Theroux’s style is to attempt to immerse himself in whatever person or ideology that he is focused on, and early in this film he makes it clear that he has had no luck at all in getting any co-operation in the making of this documentary from the Church, this becomes a bit of a weight around it as he has to rely on some other way of getting “inside” the Church. The other possible problem is the memory of the excellent 2015 documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” directed by the always on point Alex Gibney, and based around the book of the same name by author Lawrence Wright. This book and film took a deep dive into the same world and in fact much of Theroux’s stock footage is the same that was used in the Gibney documentary – which can be a little distracting if you recognise it.
Here Theroux has interviews with ex-scientologists who dish the dirt on what it was like being high-ranking officials within the Church, as well as talking about the leader of the Church, David Miscavige. Theroux then, and a little inexplicably decides to stage some of the more famous moments from interviews with Miscavige; a testimony Miscavige gave in a lawsuit and a scene from something that allegedly took place in a scientology punishment house called “The Hole”. They cast actors and get them to go through the different scenes while Theroux interviews the ex-scientologist to varying degrees of success.
So, while the documentary is a little uneven and does not add too much to the discussion on the Church of Scientology it is interesting to see how the organization reacts to the mere presence of Theroux gathering information and interviewing past members. We see some intimidation by the Church (or at least we are told it is by the Church) in the presence of threatening letters from their lawyers asking Louis to cease and desist, as well as another cameraman filming Louis and his compatriots, then some older men turn up and try and get in the heads of the ex-church members.
I would recommend this highly to fans of Theroux and his style as well as the fact that he tries not to let people off the hook in terms of asking questions, particularly questions the normal person may ask, he has an engaging style which I think is reflected in his popularity particularly in the UK. If you are not a fan or do not know who Louis is I would still recommend if you enjoy going to the movies and watching high quality documentaries as they are far and few between.
If you liked this film then try:
“Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” (2015)
“The Master” (2012)
“Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones” (1980)
“The Sacrament” (2013)