British/American journalist and filmmaker Louis Theroux is known mainly for his series of Weird Weekends documentaries which covered marginal, mostly American subcultures such as survivalists, black nationalists, white supremacists and porn stars. His whole raison d’être is based on his seemingly unquenchable thirst to bring a sense of understanding to these issues which on the surface make little sense, and in some instances to expose both their hypocrisy and potential dangers.
Tackling the whole matter of the iniquitous Church of Scientology seemed the perfect subject for Theroux to tackle, as unlike other filmmakers who have covered this already, his easy-going style is confrontational but it lacks the anger and aggression that other investigators adopt. On top of that his wicked sense of quintessential dry British wit doesn’t make fun of serious situations but it does reach and bring out the much needed humor to both defuse, and make the film so much more entertaining.
Theroux and his producer were lucky enough to get the involvement of several ex high-ranking Scientologists like Marty Rathbun who had acrimoniously departed the Church in 2004 after being involved for some 27 years. He is now one of their most outspoken critics and therefore a regular target for the Church’s so called ‘squirrel busters’ who try to antagonize and intimidated all dissidents. Theroux doesn’t just interview him, but encourages him to help them stage some reenactments using actors of some of Scientologists more scarier practices. There is one particularly harrowing scene where they create ‘The Hole’ in the Church’s high-security Gold Base estate in rural California where the Church leader David Miscavige incarcerates anyone he perceives is a potential dissident and subjects them to ritual physical and mental abuse.
Every step of filming the documentary Scientologists show up and film Theroux and his team in the hopes of intimidating them, but in reality they actually only provoke Theroux to challenge them to reveal their purpose and identity causing them to just withdraw from the scene. There is however one such occasion when their presence truly rattles Rathbun, who takes some of his anger out on Theroux when questions his reactions. It is yet another reminder that as co-operative that Rathbun is now, he was not only complicit with all the Church’s illegal and immoral activities for almost three decades, he had in fact created many of them.
In this engaging and totally compelling film Theroux doesn’t really uncover anything new about this very dangerous cult, but he does a least bring a fresh, and often funny perspective, on the despicable practices that the Church still carry on completely un-checked by any official authorities. Their founder may have been dead for several years but his heirs, particularly Miscavige, ensure that the evil work continues unabatedly despite people like Theroux clearly showing us that it should be stopped completely.