Louis Theroux’s much anticipated My Scientology Movie, is showing at Plymouth Arts Centre cinema from 19 – 23 November. Previewed by Nigel Watson.
Louis Theroux is expert at producing documentaries that provide an insight into marginal subcultures (Weird Weekends) and the lives of celebrities (When Louis Met…). His method is to follow the subject and ask off-hand or seemingly innocent questions that lure the subject into revealing far more than their PR image presents.
He has always wanted to probe the secrets Church of Scientology that has such high-profile members as John Travolta and Tom Cruise, but not surprisingly they have refused to let him have permission to film them. To get round this problem, Louis in collaboration with director John Dower, produced the feature-length My Scientology Movie, which was premiered at the London Film Festival in October 2016.
Scientology was established in 1954 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Like many cults that arose in that period they addressed our concerns about atomic warfare, pollution, over-population, natural disasters, famine and disease. So-called contactees in the USA claimed they were given rides in flying saucers and had long discussions with the alien humanoid pilots of these craft who promised to save us from our materialistic and war-mongering ways. The contactees were the charismatic, self-promoting and self-proclaimed heroes of a new era for humanity. Some would establish their own cults or cult-like organisations with fanatical followers ready to do the bidding of the contactee.
Most flying saucer cults have fizzled away in the mists of history or have at least proved relatively harmless, but Scientology has proved to be more long-lived and continues to believe that we have to go through different levels of initiation. Their teachings state that the ruler of the Galactic Confederacy sent humans to Earth 75 million years ago, and immortal disembodied Thetan beings attached to our bodies. Even Hubbard called the scenarios described in these initiation levels as ‘space opera’.
Since access to the group was denied, Louis and his team filmed re-enactments of alleged events on soundstages in Hollywood. Actors for these scenes are auditioned and they are guided by ex-members of the cult, so this becomes a film about the construction of their memories. Their activities soon came to the attention of the church, and they pursued a campaign of stalking and filming the filmmakers. This underlines that, ‘They are behaving in a way that is so obviously pathological—you would think they would realise that other people would see that and think this is a religion of lunatics,’ says Louis.