So I recently finally got around to seeing Louie Theroux’s latest documentary film, appropriately titled My Scientology Movie, and I wanted to talk about because fuck it, why not?
Litigation, that’s why not. But hey, when’s that stopped anyone before?
To be clear, this isn’t really a “review” per se, really more just a collection of thoughts and interesting takeaways I personally gleaned from my viewing Mr. Theroux’s latest foray into Bizzaro World.
So, if you’re not familiar with Louie Theroux, I highly recommend you look him up: dude has done some really interesting stuff, and as the whole “documentarian as character in their own work”-type documentarians go, he’s definitely my favourite. There’s just something so compelling to me about Theroux’s manner and the way in which he approaches his subjects. Louie is genial and unassuming, while somehow also being direct and forceful, and is very adept and getting his subjects to let their guard down and get at those hard-hitters while not driving them away. Louie also has this really wonderful deadpan sense of humor, which he tends to play off in just the right way, which was no more apparent than in My Scientology Movie. My Scientology Movie could very well be the funniest Louie Theroux documentary yet, and perhaps the most chilling as well.
To surmise, My Scientology Movie is Louie’s attempt to pierce the iron curtain of secrecy that is the Church of Scientology, one of the world’s most popular, controversial, and prolifically litigious “religions” (I use that term as loosely as possible”. When Louie’s attempts to actually get into the real Church of Scientology fail, he decides to take a more unorthodox route: Louie decides he’s going to recreate Scientology’s most infamous moments, figures, and secrets himself. My Scientology Movie documents Louie’s attempts to do this, and the…interesting reprisal it provokes from the Church of Scientology itself.
I’ve sometimes questioned why certain documentarians feel the need to place themselves within their own works as front and centre protagonists. I guess the concern for me is it seems all too easy for documentarians who star in their own work to fall into the trap into making the documentary more about themselves than what is they’re actually trying to document. In some ways, My Scientology Movie falls into that trap, but I think in this case, it’s very much intended. The way Theroux frames himself in My Scientology Movie is of something of an unwitting novice in the truly bizarre world of Scientology. For Louie, this film was a learning experience, and I think that’s why I connected with it so much, because it sure as fuck was a learning experience for me.
Prior to watching My Scientology Movie, my perception of the “Church” of Scientology was one of relative ambivalence. I generally just regarded Scientology as a grand scale swindle, a blatant pyramid scheme that paraded itself around as some kind of legitimate religious doctrine. I never once believed it wasn’t harmful by any means, but I certainly found it…funnier I guess?
Safe to say after everything I saw in My Scientology Movie, I no longer find Scientology funny. I still think it’s a blatant Ponzi scheme, but now I understand that’s way more sinister than that. Joining Scientology isn’t just a case of “buyers beware”; it’s giving your whole life away. Its pledging your once and eternal existence to a cadre of truly twisted zealots who want to empty you of anything other than Scientology, dig their claws into you and never let go. All the while, “The Church” bleeds you dry, until you basically can’t exist without them.
So yeah, it’s a cult, in the truest sense of that word. And a Ponzi scheme, as if it wasn’t bad enough already.
So yeah, I do believe that I, as was everyone in the cinema, was learning something alongside Louie, and it was all the more impactful for it. As Louie dug deeper, found more threads to pull, more doors to open, I got a sense of the real scale and implications Scientology has sinking into Louie. Throughout the film, Louie encounters a handful of ex-Scientologists, highly senior in rank. Louie’s conversations with these, for the most part, seemingly normal people reveals a sickening darkness to depths of Scientology’s cult-like mentality. Because you see, Scientology is not merely a philosophy for life; it’s the one hope of humanity, in only thing in their minds that can save us. When that’s all you believe, how could you not devote yourself fully to it? When in your own mind, you’re fighting for the very survival of everything you know, why wouldn’t viciously attack, harass, and do everything in your power to stifle those who speak out against it? Its once these kinds of attacks begin to plague Louie during the making of My Scientology Movie that the real understanding sets in of the strength and reach of these people. Louie’s few encounters with those Scientologists that haven’t flown the proverbial coop perfectly illustrate just how bizarrely dangerous Scientology is: they are, at once, both hilarious and bone chilling. Watching Louie react in his often very reserved, dead pan manner to these zealots screeching at him with a eyes locked in a mad glare is delightfully funny in just how surreal it is. But on the other hand, there is always that lingering thought about the circumstances in which these encounters take place. The way these encounters are shot, these purported Scientologists almost seem to appear from nowhere. They have cameras trained on Louie, and they seem to behave almost like robots, completely disregarding any of Louie’s earnest attempts to open up a dialogue. The Scientologists have only two modes: indignant rage and unsettling cold indifference. Again, maybe I’m just projecting onto Louie here, but this seemed like a crossroads in understanding. These encounters tear away that abstract conception of Scientologists as whacky goof-balls that has so often been the subject of mockery and ridicule elsewhere and shows them as something far scarier.
As is often his fashion, Louie doesn’t really offer much in the way of resolution, rather he simply opens a window into a world few will ever have to endure, but that we now having a very chilling understanding of that goes beyond simply reading shit on Wikipedia or Reddit. My Scientology Movie is an education on the real consequences of when a cult is given power and means beyond its grasp: its seductive, highly destructive, and a pathway to the kind of madness that doesn’t seem possible outside of a fictionalised reality.
So I know I didn’t say this was a review up top, but I nevertheless thoroughly recommend My Scientology Movie to anyone: it was a wonderfully funny, and simultaneously bone-chilling experience that was well worth my time, and I’m guessing it’ll end up being worthy of your time too.