What do you do when the group you’re trying to expose, as would be expected, don’t play ball? Make a film to spite them.
Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie takes a bunch of frustrated documentarians, ex-faithful, celebrity look-alikes and archival footage of Tom Cruise and lumps it all together in a film whose very premise concedes that its producers lacked the access necessary to really elucidate on its contentious subject.
Instead indulging in intermittently engaging mock-stagings of the much-criticized practices, Theroux lumbers through the organisation’s background, beliefs and the face it presents to the world, highlighting celebrity-links and some none-too-public aspects of the group. Seizing on a section of road which Theroux claims has been appropriated by the organisation for their own private use, the reported revelation is not nearly as profound or shocking as Theroux would like it to be, emphasising his investigations here to no end and using the site to engage with his subject’s apparently not so senior representatives.
Much of the film is taken up by Theroux’s back-and-forth with a reportedly high-ranked former official/enforcer figure and now detractor to those with whom he spent decades. Theroux’s trademark and oft-copied style shines through here, enjoying a (mostly) friendly rapport with his feature’s prized asset, expounding on his previous employer’s contentious status. Both his comments and the interactions between the two Theroux chose to insert into the final cut proving surprisingly candid, an exchange in the film’s later stages manages to add some drama to the proceedings.
Theroux’s unpacking of what is largely already well-known about the controversial group’s foundation, recent history and ongoing activities, the centre of multiple investigations, documentaries and no end of pop-culture slighting, may prove appealing to those with a cursory knowledge or interest in the topic. Despairingly, by the chosen, fairly uncommon method of story-telling statedly forced upon the filmmakers, they betray this disdainful take’s inability to really tackle its subject which has and continues to present no end of material or interest for those on the trail.
Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival – for tickets head to the Festival website