After ten years of trying to gain access to the mysterious world of Scientology and it’s unorthodox practices, Theroux decided there must be another means of producing his long-awaited documentary. With the help of director John Dower, Theroux uses an ensemble of actors and ex-Scientology members to bring a truly interesting depiction of religious fundamentalism.
Scientology bears an unusual attraction to the modern audience, co-opting religion, cult, the celebrity and American culture, truly making it the ‘Holy grail of stories.’ In true Theroux style, going back to Weird Weekends , My Scientology Movie brings with it spontaneity, investigation, and wit, alongside the detail of the bizarre underworld of Scientology.
If you saw Alex Gibney’s ‘Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief’ last year, you’d be aware of the accusations of psychological and physical abuse, not simply within the church itself, but conducted by David Miscavige, Chair of the Board of Scientology. Gibney’s piece provides a chilling and in-depth timeline of events, but with Theroux, the audience feels as if they are getting a first-hand experience of the Church of Scientology’s strange and often frightening tactics.
Through most of the film, Theroux is joined by Marty Rathbun, the former Inspector General of the Church. Though he is arguably the backbone of the documentary, Rathbun’s spiky and unpredictable character holds back the investigation. At one point he calls himself “the baddest ass dude in Scientology,” but later is on the defensive when Theroux presses him for information, asking him about the abuse he may have committed himself.
In the live Q&A session hosted by the London Literature Festival, Dower and Theroux reveal how their relationship with Rathbun has since deteriorated, but say Rathbun, in the last year, has distanced himself greatly from all anti-Scientology movements. Nevertheless, capturing the awkward relationship between Theroux and Rathbun is one of the comedic highlights of the film, many of their conversations being filled with the signature Theroux pause.
Another highlight is Andrew Perez’s portrayal of David Miscavige. After auditioning a large selection of potential Miscaviges we finally get to the almost mannequin-like Perez. His vein-pulsing intensity and pure rage as Miscavige on TV and then Miscavige behind closed doors drives an inspiring performance.
At the heart of Theroux’s investigation is his personal need to understand why it is that so many people stay in the church of Scientology, despite the apparent abuse and deception. Jefferson Hawkins, another former member whose ex-wife confronts Theroux at several points of the documentary, offers perhaps the clearest explanation.
He says leaving Scientology means leaving everything you have not only worked for but also most you hold dear. You enter a world, foreign to yourself and all alone. It’s hard for Theroux not to expose and shame Scientology, especially as he himself is spied on and hounded by its members, and he does claim this was not his intention, but through Hawkins we are forced to reconsider our condemnation of the members of Scientology.
We are fascinated by the story behind it and the practice but what My Scientology Movie reveals is a culture of total disobedience turned toxic.