Thursday, 15 September 2016

My Scientology Movie

Last year, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief hit the big screen, challenging almost every aspect of Scientology in a way that only Alex Gibney could. It was so enthralling that it ended up on my Top 5 of the year list. Now, charmingly pressing filmmaker Louis Theroux has released My Scientology Movie, which takes a very different approach - the logical antipode of Going Clear.

After Louis Theroux has multiple requests to cooperate in making his documentary denied by the Church of Scientology, he begins interviewing Mark Rathbun, a former church official who held a very senior position. Mark helps Louis to make dramatic reconstructions of incidents within the church that he witnessed over the years, particularly involving mysterious church leader David Miscavige

The one core element that makes this film work so well is Theroux’s style. His nonchalant manner of provocation not only combats the Church’s aggressive pursuing tactics but provides plenty of laughs, and there sure are a lot of laughs. From dueling camera crews, police encounters, idiotically elaborate security systems and Mark Rathburn hosing down the church’s ‘squirrel busters’, what we get is a familiar mix of dark comedy masked in Theroux’s unique brand of quaintness - always walking a fine line with the subject matter.

Where with others the church’s harassing has completely halted any attempts to defame their name, Theroux plays them at their own game, throwing them the shovel and letting them dig themselves into a hole. Sure it’s unlikely to sway the opinion of Scientologists themselves - from both these documentaries it seems that most members are either mentally unstable or are being blackmailed into not leaving - but considering the reach of Theroux’s other work, this may well be more influential than Going Clear.

Theroux manages to move so seamlessly onto the silver screen in My Scientology Movie by embracing the format itself. From the opening splash-text, to the bombastic soundtrack, to the employed editing style, he’s able to effectively stereotype the basic language of film - which is what allows his plan to reconstruct events that Rathbun has witnessed to work. He takes the core problem to other people’s approach and flips it on its head - if he can’t go to them, make them come to him. The bonus that you don't really see in Gibney's documentary is the multi-faceted personality of Rathbun - due to Theroux's approach, at a few points you question if  Mark might be going to snap. It’s all very intriguing and a completely different approach when compared to Going Clear, which makes it the perfect companion piece.

It’s nigh-impossible to top Gibney’s Going Clear, and Louis Theroux doesn’t try to. He takes a route that’s as uniquely Theroux as Going Clear is as uniquely Gibney, and certainly if you’re looking to get your documentary fix, these two would work perfectly as a double feature. Sadly My Scientology Movie is on extremely limited release, but keep an eye out for it on TV in the future, because this is Theroux at his best.

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