‘Slightly underwhelming by his high standards…’
Religious fanaticism is the root cause of the world’s most serious problems. On paper, Scientology is neither more outlandish nor more corrupt than any of the major religions were at the same stage of their development but the ratio of fanatics to reasonable people seems to be higher in Scientology. This, coupled with the bizarre back story of the church, combined with the amount of celebrity followers, makes for a religion that is perfect for the internet age. Despite various other documentaries, books and articles that have already covered David Miscavige and his followers, people can’t get enough of Scientology. All this coverage begs the question, what else is left to say about this strange cult? As brilliant documentary maker Louis Theroux chose this topic as his first feature length film, it is presumed that he considers it one of his best works. In truth however, My Scientology Movie offers nothing new. In the end, the film focuses more on former Scientologist Marty Rathbun than the church itself.
Seeing as Louis can’t obtain any meaningful access to the church, he recruits Rathbun to help him recreate some of the church’s most explosive moments using actors (in a style indebted to The Act of Killing). If that sounds like a paper thin premise, that’s because it kind of is, and these re-enactments become less effective as the movie goes on. The most revealing scenes are when Theroux’s long silences provoke Rathbun into losing his temper. It is in these chilling moments that is easy to imagine Rathbun as the church’s main enforcer. The church members make for easy heels as per usual, and their mere petulance always makes for entertaining television but sadly this isn’t TV. This is a feature film and Theroux never really justifies making the switch from small to big screen.
That being said this is Louis fucking Theroux we are talking about here. The man is an institution. And while My Scientology Movie makes various missteps, it is still entertaining, informative and, at times, hilarious. Theroux is still the best interviewer in the business but what was supposed to be his biggest project yet ends up being one of his most underwhelming. Entertaining and compelling it may be but revelatory or ground breaking? Not often enough.