A review of Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie
by Nigel Watson
In the opening voice-over, Louis Theroux says he’s always wanted to make a film that takes a positive view of the Church of Scientology. We all know he’ll dish the dirt, especially since they reject all his attempts at getting access to them.
We get an introduction to Scientology through their own promotional videos that feature glitzy Hollywood Scientology events and a description of their belief that we have immortal souls (Thetans) that we can only discover through numerous levels of initiation. But, Louis isn’t interested in the belief-systems of this cult founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954. Instead, his focus is on David Miscavige, the head of the Church who took over its leadership in 1986 and has only made a few media appearances since then.
To explore the allegations of bullying, intimation and criminality conducted under his rule, Louis interviews ex-members of the cult who explain why they joined and what it was like to live as a Scientologist.
Mark Rathbun the top Scientology enforcer tells Louis how he escaped the cult and is doing everything in his power to unmask its veil of secrecy. Going beyond the ‘talking heads’ approach, Mark and Louis audition Hollywood actors to speak lines from a TV interview Miscavige had with Ted Koppel in 1992 , and for good measure they audition actors to do the same with Scientology’s most famous supporter, Tom Cruise. These highlight the strange power of their pronouncements that are riddled with scientology terminology.
The selected actors then go on to play out scenes written and supervised by Mark, showing how Miscavige humiliated and bullied cult members. Andrew Perez playing the part of Miscavige compellingly attacks the role with vigour.
Not surprisingly, these activities soon come to the attention of the church and they send people to film them outside the studios. When Louis approaches them they don’t want to answer his questions, and just say they are making a documentary. Later, Louis and Mark are travelling in their car when a Scientology vehicle follows them, emphasising that the cult is on to them.
Beside that storyline, Louis turns up the heat by going outside the organisation’s Golden Base to view their razor-wire fencing, security lights and motion sensors that keep the public out and its members in. It is not long before the Scientologists tell him this is a private road and he should go, and they even call out the police to move him on. It turns out, one of them is Catherine Fraser a high-ranking member of the group who is the ex-wife of Scientology’s former head of PR who has now left the cult. When Louise returns he finds the road has been closed outside the base and ends up in a camera-to-camera confrontation with Catherine.
At the moment Mark is feeling smug and friendly with Louis, he is verbally attacked by Scientologists outside the studio. Upset by this, he tells Louis this is what he has to put up with day-in-day-out as an ex-member of the cult. Like taking a pin out of a grenade Louis observes that this is the type of behaviour Mark condoned and instigated in his many years as a leading Scientologist. Mark can only fume at this and cross Louis firmly off his Christmas card list.
My Scientology Movie plays with the processes of media and manipulation, what is truth and fiction? What can we believe? Even our guides like Mark have feet of clay. Perhaps its those damned Thetans inside us that stop us from seeing unalloyed reality? Whatever the answer I’m sure they’d enjoy this quirky peep through our limited windows of perceptions.