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My Scientology Movie [2015] follows journalist and broadcaster Louis Theroux as he attempts to uncover details of the Church of Scientology’s inner operations. With the help of ex- Church members, Theroux uses actors to recreate alleged altercations amongst Scientology’s upper echelon and experiment with official Church therapy exercises and techniques.

Not Like the Others: While there have been many documentaries on the subject – including the recently acclaimed Going Clear [2015] – Theroux approaches Scientology with slightly different intentions. This documentary does not chronicle the history of Scientology as a religion nor does it make grand attempts to sneak inside the Church to present the audience with never before seen facts or footage. Instead, Theroux aims to highlight the mindset of those at the heart of Scientology and expose their behavior in order to make sense of the religion’s infamous grip on its followers. The best way to do this, he decides, is to use actors to act out key speeches and interviews from notable figures in Scientology, including its current chairman David Miscavige and actor Tom Cruise. Using their experiences and unique accounts, ex-Church members assist Theroux in assuring factual accuracy in these dramatizations of events. These ex-members also guide the actors and Theroux through Scientology therapy exercises to let them experience the reality of living as a practicing Scientologist. While all of this can be viewed as very amusing at times, it can also be considered a particularly unique way of viewing the religion through the documentary medium when comparing it to its predecessors.

Hilarity to Reality: In his typical style, Theroux uses humor to win the trust of his interviewees and wiggle his way out of sticky situations. There is plenty of this humor in My Scientology Movie, but it also serves another interesting purpose. As the Church becomes aware of Theroux’s project, they too begin to film him for a project of their own. This leads to many an amusing scuffle outside their filming space as the cameras square up, lens to lens. While Theroux uses British humor and charm in response, we see the Scientologists pick arguments and hurl insulting jokes. Theroux’s humor, therefore, becomes a mirror that reflects the more menacing nature of Scientology’s relationship with the outside world. He gently baits them, and they come back fighting even harder. The audience sees their nature as something to laugh at but also as something to question. The clash of senses of humor is a rather effective juxtaposition.

Character Clash: The gamble of this documentary is its reliance on central characters with big personalities. Theroux and his work have proven popular with audiences since the nineties, but those who aren’t fans of his humor or reporting style won’t necessarily see him in a different light in his first feature-length documentary. The film also heavily features ex-Church member Marty Rathburn, a controversial character who has featured in previous documentaries relating to Scientology. Larger than life and highly emotive, Rathburn takes charge of the actors as they re-enact key incidents from his time within the Church. He is a tricky man, and it’s often difficult to find him believable as more is revealed about his past. His constant presence at Theroux’s side could be considered off-putting, particularly when their personalities clash. It doesn’t distract from the main aim of the film, but it could be an irritating addition for some.  

My Scientology Movie takes a look at the infamous religion with a unique twist and plenty of humor.

My Scientology Movie
4.0Overall Score
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