For his first feature-length documentary, BBC reporter Louis Theroux (known for immersing himself into quirky corners of the world — professional wrestling, infomercial entrepreneurs, Off-Broadway — for his Weird Weekends television series) tackles Scientology. Theroux’s stock in trade is an amenable, low-key manner, with a Columbo-like approach to questioning, bringing out his subjects in all their oddball glory. In director John Dower’s My Scientology Movie, though, that adds up to what is best described as trolling, with the help of a few Scientology apostates, notably Marty Rathbun, a high-ranking twenty-year church veteran and self-described former “fix-it” man, who left in 2004.
“For years my dream was that I might be the first journalist to see another, more positive side of the church,” Theroux says, unconvincingly, to open the film. Unable to gain access or secure formal interviews, he auditions actors to play, among others, David Miscavige, the intensely private Scientology leader who replaced its founder, sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard.
To re-create the Scientology/Miscavige experience, Rathbun subjects Theroux and the actors to Scientology training — psychological tools that essentially hijack human survival instincts. Meanwhile, Theroux, Rathbun and the others encounter real Scientologists who’ve caught onto the project and spy on and scold Theroux’s crew. The film’s a little choppy as Theroux takes side trips to interview other former Scientologists, but it comes together as a chilling look at America’s most famous 20th-century homegrown religion.
My Scientology Movie
Directed by John Dower
Opens March 10, Landmark Sunshine