My Scientology Movie
Louis Theroux offers his own idiosyncratic take on the controversial religion
Following on from Alex Gibney's 2015 HBO documentary Going Clear, which examined the development of Scientology and featured interviews with prominent ex-members like Paul Haggis, it's easy to see what attracted Louis Theroux to the fray. The Church of Scientology's well-documented resistance to being put under the microscope by the BBC in particular provides Theroux with ample opportunities to poke fun at the religion's deflection strategies.
Taking further inspiration from the re-enactments featured in Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing, Theroux travels to Los Angeles to audition actors to play the roles of prominent believers, engaging the help of Marty Rathbun who, like Haggis, has gone from poster boy to one of the church's harshest critics. Few religions would take Theroux's subversive activities lightly, and the Scientology top brass inevitably take the bait, leading to heavy-handed surveillance and confrontations.
Theroux has so much fun with the clumsy way the religion's enforcers try to close him down that any wider, or more even-handed picture is lost. However, fans of the documentarian's everyman persona will find plenty to enjoy here, as he acts as an arch provocateur in the face of the religion's amusingly named 'Squirrel Busters'.
The title indicates a personal take on a well-worn subject, but the weakness of My Scientology Movie is that it adopts such a familiar route in mocking the religion, without showing much interest in why Scientologists might take it so seriously. By limiting his focus to the activities of current leader David Miscavige, who some Scientologists privately express reservations about, Theroux has created an amusing documentary, but one which rarely lands a meaningful punch on its easily demonised subject.
Selected release from Fri 7 Oct.