Louis Theroux returns to do what he does best. Ask people questions and make them feel real awkward.
Scientology has always been an enigma to the general public. It was founded by science fiction (yep, really) writer, L. Ron Hubbard in 1954 and he based much of his ‘religion’ on self help books he published and sold in exchange for money. This is a man who once said “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich , you start a religion”. Funny that. He claimed, without any scientific proof or qualifications, that his book, about what he called dianetics, was the modern science of mental health. Sounds fishy, right?
Now we all know what they talk about is a big, steaming pile of horseshit. And it appears, at least on the surface, that Scientologist aren’t particularly secretive about their beliefs. But what they are incredibly, insanely and dangerously protective about is the way they practise. There are allegations of physical and emotional abuse and intense scrutiny about the finances of the whole religion, which is, of course, tax exempt and that’s just the beginning. The problem is that these allegations are just that. They’re not proven. They are stories that have been told by defectors. And this is where the intrigue lies. How do you get to the bottom of the lies and the abuse if nobody from the organisation will even have a conversation with you?
This is where Louis Theroux’s documentary takes a different route than you might expect. Louis hires actors to play Scientologists including actors to play their leader, David Miscavige, and famous sociopath/ actor Tom Cruise. He gets ex-Scientologist Marty Rathbun to direct the scenes based on his own recollections of events. It’s a fairly effective way of showing the way in which Miscavige rules over his subordinates, but it doesn’t really give us a new take on what we already know. We already know he’s a total dick. In a way, its a way showing us Marty’s response to reliving the events that made up so much of his life. But the fact that Louis doesn’t get access to anyone on the inside is the ultimate downfall of this film. It doesn’t really give us a new look at Scientology. ‘Going Clear‘ is still the definitive look at Scientology and I’d urge anyone interested to seek that out.
Of course, Theroux is as charming, charismatic and as brilliantly awkward as you’d expect and his knack of getting people to open up to him is put to good use in his conversations with the Scientology defectors, particularly Marty Rathbun. But not even Theroux can get Rathbun to fully reveal what manner of offences he performed in the name of Scientology and nor can he talk his way into the ‘church’. Despite not being particularly informative or revealing, Theroux’s encounters with the Scientologists who confront him are nothing short of hilarious. These awkward, borderline aggressive, situations are where Theroux is at his best and he doesn’t disappoint here. His rational words and calm manner in tense situations are traits that make him the best at what he does.