Directed by John Dower
Starring Louis Theroux, Tom Cruise, Rob Alter, & Andrew Perez
Documentary Film Review by Sarah Smeaton
As a massive fan of Louis Theroux’s documentaries and his invasive, outstandingly clever interviewing techniques, I was obviously rather excited by the prospect of him tackling the big screen. But would it be possible for his wit and intellect to keep us entertained for a full feature-length movie? When the film’s sole focus is that of Scientology, yet with Louis not actually being able to secure a meeting with, let alone interview, any active Scientologists, you are left wondering how he will indeed fill the time.
Director John Dower wanted to take My Scientology Movie back in the direction of Louis Theroux’s earlier work, to that of the likes of Weird Weekends, and that has definitely been accomplished. The content here is much more light-hearted than Theroux’s more recent work, and he clearly feels comfortable and at home with such a setting as he is visibly relaxed throughout, even at times where he would be forgiven for being more intimidated. For example when Louis and his small crew first film outside the Scientology headquarters, they are quickly and aggressively confronted by Scientology members ushering them off ‘their property’. Theroux uses his natural politeness to an impeccable standard at this point, by good-naturedly asking one of the men (who is holding his own video camera in their faces) what his name is, and in no way acknowledging that there is any kind of hostile situation occurring here. Once again showing not only his class but also his journalistic professionalism to the highest level.
Louis Theroux openly admits that he was never going to be able to secure an interview with an active Scientologist - he’s been trying to achieve this since the 1990s – but nevertheless, what we’re left with here is a very entertaining exposé on Scientology. The documentary is bulked out with re-enactments of actual interviews with David Miscavige (head of Scientology) and Tom Cruise. We don’t just have wooden performances here, though. In true Theroux style, we as the audience are treated to seeing something that would not normally be aired. We watch right from the beginning of casting, through to production. And in actual fact what we’re left with in the casting and recruitment process is a reflection of what Scientology represents – desperate people wanting to achieve the pinnacle of happiness and looking to higher entities to fulfil that for them. In this case, Louis Theroux and Marc Headley (ex Scientologist) being the higher entities who have the final say on whether someone’s acting dreams are accomplished or not.
John Dower turned My Scientology Movie down three times, before realising its true potential. On paper, it’s obvious why he perhaps was reluctant to take this on, but the finished product is unlike any other cinematography experience you’re ever likely to have seen. What we have is investigative journalism into extraordinary, eccentric people, hilarious casting footage and a frank, terrifying look into what people are willing to do and believe in the hopes of reaching that elusive perfect future - which they are of course happy to pay for with monetary investment. Louis Theroux has excelled himself here, and has most certainly created a worthy feature length film. Here’s hoping for more to come!
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