My Scientology Movie premiers at the Tribecca Film Festival this evening and will screen again on the 18th, 20th and 22nd.
After Alex Gibney’s searing Scientology documentary Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief, I wondered if there was anything else that could be said about the abuses going on in that organization. But British journalist Louis Theroux with director John Dower have found a way into the story that might not bring much new information but does create new insight on Scientology’s leadership and what it is like to be on the receiving end of the tactics that they employ on their critics.
Theroux has embedded himself with controversial subjects before, most notably in his 2007 film The Most Hated Family In America, where he spent time with the prolifically bigoted members of the Westboro Baptist Church. But when his request to meet with the members of Scientology’s upper echelon is rejected, Theroux decides upon a different and rather ingenious course of action. He sets up auditions to hire an actor to play the reclusive current Church head David Miscavige in order to recreate certain incidents that he was allegedly involved in. Through the course of the actors preparing for the role, we see how they each reverse engineer these stories and attempt to analyze Miscavige in terms of character and motivation. The “winner” of the auditions is actor Andrew Perez, whose admission that anger comes easily to him may go aways in explaining how he was able to tap into Miscavige’s mindset.
Joining Theroux in a position that could best be described as “technical consultant” for the recreations he plans on shooting is Marty Rathbun, a former high ranking member of the Church turned one of its vocalist critics. His involvement with Theroux’s re-enactment plans perhaps serves the movie better than when we meet Rathbun in Gibney’s Going Clear, as his casual conversations with Theroux gives us more of an insight as to his own feelings over the misdeeds he participated in.
Where Gibney’s film is about confronting Scientology, Theroux’s film is often about being confronted by Scientology. As Theroux, Perez and Rathbun continue to prepare to shoot their scenes, they discover that they are being followed by members of the Church who use tactics that come as close to the line of illegal harassment as possible without going over. The Church doesn’t even want people walking around outside their compounds on public access roads if they are suspicious of your motives. As Theroux and Perez are standing outside a Scientology compound, a car zips out and out pops a woman demanding that they leave as they are on private property. Before Theroux can finish his explanation that he is filming a documentary, a man jumps out of the car with a small, cheap consumer video camera stating that he is filming a documentary about Theroux. In a moment of Inception-esque absurdity, Theroux responds by pulling out his phone and begins filming the man filming him and the film crew.
And once it becomes apparent that may be under near constant surveillance by members of the Church or their agents, tensions begin to increase between Theroux and Rathbun. But more than that, the Church’s attempts to discourage the filmmakers instead only confirm the allegations that Theroux and company are investigating, ultimately granting Theroux the access to his subject that they were so desperate to deny.