November 14, 2017 – This movie is a documentary that is a lot like one of those “making of” extras found on most movie disks that are sold. Unlike other documentaries about Scientology, this one is more like a character study of a few people making a movie than it is a formal examination of the religion itself. It does explain some aspects of the Church of Scientology, but not in the usual pedagogical way.
Front and center in this film is Louis Theroux (a co-writer and producer of this film), who seems to be directing this documentary, but the movie is actually directed by John Dower of “Thrilla in Manila.” Theroux is listed as the “presenter” of this film. That is not the only confusing thing about this movie. It also includes acting auditions for actors who will play roles in this movie, and it includes a number of research and production meetings. I kept wondering when they were going to get around to showing me the Scientology movie, but it turns out this is the movie. This is very unusual, but it works.
The key element in this movie is the sometimes testy relationship (maybe it is just an act, who knows?) between Theroux and former Scientology executive Marty Rathbun, who frequently loses his temper. In this movie, Theroux appears to be a polite, but annoying fellow who will sometimes get in people's faces. He keeps trying to get Rathbun to admit to his past wrongdoing, and Rathbun (according to the credits, Rathbun was not paid for his participation in this film) gets really annoyed by this.
Rathbun has a complicated and antagonistic relationship with Scientology. He was a former “enforcer” for the church, and may have engaged in some of the same practices now being used against himself by the church. Some of these practices, such as harassment and legal threats are on display in this film. A cameraman, hired by the church, shows up a couple of times to film Theroux and others involved in the film. Rathbun himself is harassed in public places by church officials who obviously know the legal limits of what they can get away with.
Rathbun helps Theroux select actors who will play various church leaders, including the top church leader, David Miscavige (seen in footage, and played in the film by actor Andrew Perez of “The Last Ship”). Rathbun also leads Theroux and the actors through some Scientology drills and “readings” used by the church. At one point, he refuses to participate in a kind of pledge of allegiance to church leader David Miscavige, believing this to be risky. He still believes in some aspects of Scientology.
Actor Tom Cruise is the best known member of the Church of Scientology. He is seen in past footage, and is depicted in the film by Rob Alter and other actors. The actors in this film play scenes that recreate events witnessed by former church members. Also shown in the film as himself is former church official Marc Headley, who actually seems fairly normal. Some of the church training drills shown in the film, and Rathbun's and Headley's explanations help to explain some of the behaviors, and that intense look in the eyes, of church members shown in the film.
More than some conventional documentaries about Scientology, this film gives a different kind of personal insight into the emotional and financial toll that the church has on some of its members. I could not help but wonder, however, just how much of this film is scripted, and to what extent are former church members influencing this film. Clearly, they have axes to grind. This is probably a concern in any film of this kind, but it is more obvious here because of the unconventional way this film is presented. This film rates a C+.
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