Review: Re-enactments in ‘My Scientology Movie’ Carve its Niche
The 21st Century has seen brave, shocking disclosures about Scientology: both the written and documentary versions of Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, John Sweeney’s investigation for BBC current affairs show Panorama, and, er, the South Park episode Trapped in the Closet. With the tax-exempt nonprofit organisation’s secrets increasingly out in the open and subjected to ridicule, and an abundance of harrowing personal accounts from senior ex-members having aired, one wouldn’t think there’s huge scope for further examination of the subject unless new facts are unearthed, or a new angle taken.
Enter serial documentarian Louis Theroux (the poor man’s David Farrier?). With a knack for drawing out great footage in one-on-one interviews, often due to sustained silences, and a cutting wit that’s been brought to bear on the weird and wonderful for some time now, it’s surprising he hasn’t been down this road before. Disappointingly, at times the film feels like it considers itself the first to do so – but we’ve already seen interviews with former members, along with the “documentary” crews Scientology hires to follow its critics. Yes, we know they can seem weird and scary.
While some of the standoffs may seem familiar, Theroux is possessed of both a patience and knack for a jibe that are entirely his own, making for memorable viewing. What allows My Scientology Movie to carve its own niche among documentaries about the tax-exempt nonprofit organisation is the brilliant strategy to cast unknown actors as key figures from witness accounts – such as maniacal-seeming leader, the wife-disappearer David Miscavige – and reenact frightening alleged events.
Equally chilling and informing is Theroux himself participating in recreations of purported Scientology training. As he bellows at an inanimate object and struggles to comprehend an ashtray in anthropomorphic terms you’ll be beside yourself with a mix of laughter and incredulity.