Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie (2015)

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I’m a fan of Louis, in fact I’m booked to see him in Melbourne in September. Having said that, I was pretty sure what to expect from this feature length Louis-style documentary; an enjoyable and endearing ride that would teach me something but perhaps leave me feeling a little unsatisfied. And that’s just what I got. Let’s face it, Louis is not about hard hitting investigative journalism, what makes him special is his ability to hang around people without saying much which seems to provoke them to reveal more than they intend or realise. In this case, it is ex-members of the Church of Scientology and various current members who show their colours by their aggressive and bullying behaviour toward Louis and his team.

The Church of Scientology seems to have a need for secrecy and the wealth to ensure that not much information gets out about it and anything or anyone negative is vigorously crushed. In this way perhaps it is not so different from some other organised religions but the fervour, the inability to question anything it does and the tactics it uses seem fascist and indicative of a leadership that perhaps has lost sight of reality and morality.

Louis’ information is gained pretty much solely from ex-members and what is so fascinating about this is the insight it gives into why people might engage with this sort of cult in the first place, what the process and hierarchy is and also what culpability they may have now for some of the activities they undertook whilst inside. This is particularly pertinent with the main character, Marty Rathbun, who is now a key opponent but was once the second in command.

I love Louis’ technique of ‘disarm and distract’. His casting of actors to play Tom Cruise and David Miscavige (the church leader and alleged despot) is a genius bit of distraction, allowing us to imagine who these people are whilst also getting insight into Rathbun. The training session in ‘type 40 communication’ is fascinating, particularly as we then see it being utilised by current members.

I think the dissatisfaction came from not really learning anything concrete. I wanted to know why this seeming hijacking of the church has happened under Miscavige, why it has been allowed to happened  and what the context is of legal and government protection for acts that plainly seem illegal. Can a cult like this exist just because it is (seemingly) white and wealthy? Does it work because people are tested for their susceptibility to psychological manipulation before they can join? To find out these things, I will need to watch a different kind of documentary. Worth watching though, if only for Louis dishing type 40 comms right back at a Sea Org member.

Bechdel test – fail
3.5 stars

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