Director: John Dower Running Time 100 min
This gutsy documentary opens on the amusing premise that BBC doc-maker and journalist Louis Theroux can’t understand why Scientology won’t let him do a documentary on them. Considering Theroux penned the book The Call of the Weird, Travels in American Subcultures, it’s immediately clear he will never get real access to the Church. He asserts that his intentions are to find the positives elements of the religion and uncover why so many people are members of such a controversial church. He approaches Scientology with the desire to maybe find it’s golden heart under all the damning allegations.
To get around this irritating glitch, Theroux teams up with former senior official Mark Rathbun to audition actors to stage famous interviews and alleged stories. Louis hopes to gain a deeper understanding of the religion by seeing them acted out. And, by using Mark to pick the perfect actors for the church’s main players, Louis can use the art to better understand the psyche of it’s greatest leaders. What unfolds is sublime comic genius.
What’s brilliant about this take on Scientology is that L.Ron Hubbard himself had a deep understanding of the role of narrative in tapping into the human psyche, making Scientology itself based on fundamental theatrical ideas. Because he was a science fiction writer, he understood the powerful human desire to live a narrative that cast oneself as the hero making a powerful positive impact. So, the meta approach of acting out a religion based on the writings of a science fiction author reveals Scientology in an entirely fresh way.
From huge popularity of Yelp, Youtube, Facebook and the like, the human need to feel our experiences are making a difference in the world and that our contributions matter in some way is universal. Scientology asserts that its members are saving the universe and they are chosen as the mightily warriors. My Scientology Movie hints that much of the appeal of the religion may be that it puts members in a sort of virtual reality where their actions are saving the things that they hold most dear from eternal pain and suffering. That desire to do epic good in the world may be what makes people stay. And also may point to why it’s so hard to leave. And as Louis digs deeper into Ruthburn’s complex psyche, into interviews with ex-members, and reenactments of some of the most disturbing allegations, he goes on a much wilder ride than if he would have gained access to the church.
And, of course Scientologists begin surveillance on Theroux, following his car for hours, filming him without permission or explanation, and sending letters with disturbing private details that Louis has no idea how they discovered. And because of the theatrical roots of Scientology, the way Scientologists begin interacting with the documentary reaches a level of creepiness that is profoundly cinematic.
Where Going Clear cracks Scientology with a hammer, My Scientology Movie plays more like a combination of Star Trek meets Natan For You with a touch of Bowfinger. It’s one of my festival favorites.