Along with most liberal thinking Brits, I’m a huge fan of Louis Theroux. For years Louis has been presenting fascinating documentaries about taboo subjects and almost always manages to objectively get to the very nub of the issue. In his first feature length film release, the subject in question is the extremely controversial “religion” Scientology.
Together with Marty Rathburn (a former senior executive of the Church) the filmmakers use a group of actors to re-create many practices witnessed by Rathburn during his time at the Church. Many of the rituals are abusive, violent and distressing.
As well as these re-enactments Louis interviews other ex-members of the Church, attempts to get near current prominent Scientology patrons and uses archive footage to give you a general overview of the “religion” and it’s practices.
I did like the film a lot, and found it to be an interesting insight into the cult like following that has caught the imagination of many prominent Hollywood actors. However, the main problem with the film, doesn’t lie with the filmmakers but more the subject itself.
Because the Scientology community is so insular and closed off from the rest of the world, it’s near enough impossible to get anywhere near them. During the making of the film, it’s evident, that simply driving near the “Gold Base” facility in California with a camera is enough to aggravate the movement and results in threats, verbal abuse and police interception. Louis attempts to reason with the Church members are pointless, as they refuse to speak with him, give him their names or open a dialogue. Using bizarre and intimidating tactics the group attempt to harass Louis and the crew and constantly film them with no explanation as to why.
It’s perhaps the toughest topic Louis has tackled in terms of actually getting inside or close to the subject matter in order to try and explore and understand it. It’s because of this that the film isn’t quite as engaging as some of his television work, as there were no real revelations on Scientology. Purely because no-one other than ex-members was willing to talk to him.
Based on Theroux’s TV work, it really is a scary thought that pedophiles, murderers, gang members, neo-Nazis and drug dealers all appear to be more approachable than Scientologists.