Saturday, 3 December 2016

"My Scientology Movie" (2015) - Documentary - A review.

Fig 1.
"My Scientology Movie" (2015) dir. John Dower, Written by and starring Louis Theroux, centers on Theroux's continued efforts to dismantle the shroud of secrecy behind the pseudo-religion, Scientology. Teaming up with disgraced Scientologist 'elite' Mark Rathbun, Theroux sets up a 'film-within-a-film' in order to dramatize key events in Scientology history, with additional information and scenarios supplied by Rathbun himself.

This movie is an example of the 'Reflexive' documentary. Continuing the trend established in the offbeat documentaries, "Weird Weekends"(1998) centering on various marginal subcultures; touching upon Neo Nazis, Swingers, Wrestlers and a slew of other underground movements. Of these efforts, Trent Griffiths, writing for mediacommons.futureofthebook.org, denotes keenly that "Theroux’s presence is overwhelmingly performative in the sense Stella Bruzzi describes – alienating the viewer from direct identification and deflecting engagement back onto the issues and social actors being considered, rather than encouraging empathy with his own experience. In other words, identification with Theroux’s experience as a subject is resisted by his self-conscious performance of “being a filmmaker”. (Griffiths, 2013) Theroux is much the foil in his own documentaries, becoming a mirror for subjects to expose themselves to the world. He is famously stoic and non-judgemental in his interviews which creates trust between both he and his subjects, lending an unpresented verisimilitude and authenticity to his works.

Fig 2.
There is a key difference in this latest documentary, and it is that, due to the nature of the aforementioned 'film-within-a-film', the documentary takes on a far more antagonistic mantra. Perhaps because the only way to glean any gratifying evidence of the strange behaviour displayed by the various members of the Church of Scientology is to goad them into action. And this indeed happens at various moments in the film, wherein Theroux paces about the perimeter of the secretive Gold Base facility.

This somewhat detracts from Theroux's usual method, however, there is a double bluff at play, for it dawns upon Theroux and then the viewer that the person feeding them the information regarding Scientology, Rathbun, might be less than sincere in his motives to help with the film. This double standard is highlighted by Rosa Simonet, she says of Rathbun, "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." (Simonet, 2016) It certainly seems as though Theroux is seeking to explore both sides of the Scientology coin, turning the mirror not only on the Church itself, but on the disgraced Rathbun, whose behaviour becomes more and more erratic as the documentary progresses.

Fig 3.
There are further hints at the reflexive nature of this documentary in the way it was conducted "The brilliant idea by Theroux and director John Dower – to let the Scientologists pursue them instead of the other way around – proved a highly successful gamble." (Alexander, 2016) once again recalling the style across Theroux's large catalogue of films, albeit in a much higher gambit, displaying the ingenious ways that Theroux simply allows his subjects to 'put their foot in it'.

Suffering middling reviews, it certainly seems as though the events captured in the documentary simply weren't explosive or gratifying enough for audiences to enjoy, though there are moments of palpable brilliance - particularly in the portrayal of David Miscavige - a large amount of the documentary falls on the subtlety of the interplay between Theroux and Rathbun and the immense feeling of ambiguity at the films close.


Alexander, Neta "A camera standoff with Scientology". [online] Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/culture/.premium-1.720502 [Accessed 03/12/2016]

Griffiths, Trent "The Filmmaker Stripped Bare: Louis and the Nazis" [online] Available at: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/2013/01/29/filmmaker-stripped-bare-louis-and-nazis [Accessed 03/12/2016]

Simonet, Rosa "Even though they're not letting me in I'm going to make a film anyway". [online] Available at: http://mancunion.com/2016/10/17/even-though-theyre-not-letting-me-in-im-going-to-make-a-film-anyway-louis-therouxs-my-scientology-movie/ [Accessed on 03/12/2016]


Fig 1. My Scientology Movie Poster [image] Available at: http://empireonline.media/jpg/70/0/0/1280/960/aspectfit/0/0/0/0/0/0/c/articles/57e56a4e0c6437272f5f7cc1/MSM%2520Quad%2520Louis%2520Photo%254050%2525%255b2%255d.jpg [Accessed on 02/12/2016]

Fig 2. Louis Theroux. [image] Available at: http://static.rogerebert.com/redactor_assets/pictures/5714ff4c9df9c71c2400003a/My-Scientology-Movie-Tribeca-2016.jpg [Accessed on 03/12/2016]

Fig 3. Louis and Mark. [image] Available at: http://mcurl.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/louis_theroux_my_scientology_movie_10000261_st_1_s-high.jpg [Accessed on 03/12/2016]

No comments:

Post a Comment