Louis Theroux has effortlessly jumped from small screen to big screen with his latest documentary on Scientology. After continued attempts to work with the Church, to make a documentary from the inside, Louis goes a different route. He casts actors to play David Miscavige, Scientology’s current leader, and other members of the Church to reenact the allegations of abuse that have been haunting the Church in recent years.
In order to do this Louis seeks the help of Marty Rathburn, a former Scientologist who was a high ranking member for almost 30 years. Marty provides an insider’s knowledge of Scientology, and performs the auditing technique and other exercises early members are subjected to. Louis is taken to ‘Gold Base’, a Scientology compound in which he was allegedly held captive in a building known as ‘The Hole’.
All of this leads to a few (hilarious) interactions with members of the Church. Twice, people turn up outside the studio they’re working in, filming them without telling them why. Twice, while visiting ‘Gold Base’, Louis and his crew are told they are trespassing, and shouted at unrelentingly by a Church member. At one point Louis is followed by a car for four hours.
Some of the most interesting and confronting moments, come from those between Louis and Marty. As they work together, Louis questions him about his time in Scientology and his complicity in their more questionable actions. Let’s just say things get tense. As always, Louis adeptly gets his subjects to reveal a lot about themselves, and the subject matter, by doing seemingly very little.
Watching a Louis Theroux documentary in the cinema was a wonderful experience. Louis is at his funniest in My Scientology Movie. The theatre was in constant laughter, either due to a fantastic quip by Louis, or his famous awkward silences. It is also fantastically put together, and looks great — I assume due to a bigger budget than his TV ventures.
Overall, Theroux’s latest documentary is every bit as good as his previous work. With a feature film, he is given more time to get to the heart of the weirdness of Scientology. He doesn’t waste much time with history, and with the unconventional recreational method, sets his film apart from the 2015 documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. As with all his documentaries, he leaves you with so many questions and moral quandaries. The only downside is that this film only had a limited release, and I assume many did not get the chance to see it. If you didn’t manage to catch it, I hope for your sake it’ll be on TV soon enough!