Wednesday, 15 February 2017

MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - "Act of Killing - Lite" on Scientology

Louis Theroux - Brit Michael Moore sans Bulk.
My Scientology Movie (2016)
Dir. John Dower
Scr. Louis Theroux
Prd. Simon Chinn
Starring: Louis Theroux, Mark Rathbun, Andrew Perez, Jeff Hawkins

Review By Greg Klymkiw
"One of the systems of faith that are based on the belief in the existence of a particular god or gods, or in the teachings of a spiritual leader."
- The Oxford Dictionary definition of the word "religion"
Founded by the dreadful and prolific Science Fiction pulp writer L. Ron Hubbard and presided over by the enigmatic David Miscavige since Hubbard's death in 1986, the Church of Scientology has taken more than its fair share of volleys over the years, including the brilliant fictionalized fantasia The Master by PT Anderson and Alex Gibney's searing documentary Going Clear.

Examining the aforementioned Oxford definition of the word religion, in addition to the various film exposes, including My Scientology Movie, I really do have to wonder what finally separates Scientology from any other religion, whether it be Catholicism, Christian Fundamentalism, Judaism, Islam and any other major/minor systems of faith. Scientology, like all the rest, feels it is the best religion, places emphasis upon recruitment, needs to survive upon financial support from its followers and is not without cult-like leaders and/or elements of cultish indoctrination.

With My Scientology Movie, Director John Dower, Producer Simon Chinn, Host/Star/Writer Louis Theroux and chief commissioning entity, the BBC, were obviously denied access to the inner workings of Scientology and have taken their cue from the in-your-face (and decidedly entertaining) shenanigans of Michael (Roger and Me) Moore and the extremely visionary film artist Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing, The Look of Violence), to craft this lightweight, often amusing, occasionally chilling bit of shock journalism.

To the former, Theroux blunders about Los Angeles in his oh-so-Blighty fashion on the outskirts of various Scientology headquarters and to the latter, orders up auditions with young actors to play Scientology types in scripted and improvised recreations of speeches, presentations and alleged actual inner workings of the Church.

Young actors portray Scientology officials in recreations.
Host Theroux is accompanied through most of the film's cheeky gymnastics by former high-ranking Scientologist Mark Rathburn who left the Church, exposed its inner workings and was, not surprisingly, discredited by the Church itself. Via Rathburn, we get a sense of his own experiences within the organization and an even greater sense of how his life has become severely beleaguered since his break from Scientology. He comes across, probably to the chagrin of the Church, as an extremely sympathetic figure. Much of our empathy for him, however, comes more from Theroux's annoying and eventually badgering of Rathburn, attempting to get the man to respond to his own "complicity" in events and actions of the past.

One cannot fault Theroux for being a journalist, but one can certainly question his methods in the film, especially as they relate to Rathburn. Firstly, the movie inadvertently exposes how investigative journalists will try to be "friends" with their subjects in order to get what they want out of them. If My Scientology Movie was a film, as opposed to what it is, little more than reasonably watchable TV-style doc-journalism, this fascinating aspect of what makes investigative journalists do their job, might have elevated the proceedings considerably if it had been less (and seemingly) inadvertent.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Theroux's timing and methods to address Rathburn's "complicity" in the actions of the Church, seem so fumbling and wrong-headed that we can't help but feel for the former Scientology big-wig. At one point Theroux, in a somewhat smarmy and definitely clumsy fashion, uses information and points-of-view from letters he's received from the Church's lawyers to needle Rathburn. This not only pisses Rathburn off, but us as well.

Granted, Theroux interviews another former Church official Jeff Hawkins, who not only adds considerable insights to the proceedings, but states unequivocally that he believes Rathburn has been hiding more than a few skeletons in the Scientology Closet. As a journalist, Theroux is bound to act on this. That's the theory - the practice, however, is something else altogether and backfires on him. This kind of recoil is what will give the Church of Scientology considerable ammunition to discredit the movie itself.

I couldn't really blame them.

Andrew Perez as David Miscavige - Star Turn!!!
The film as journalism barely gets a passing grade. As a film, it registers a "gentlemanly" grade of "B". This is no work of artistry, voice and vision (like, say, Joshua Oppenheimer's great, important films). Still, My Scientology Movie gets points of the old-college-try variety for its dramatic reenactments - not because they're especially good, but because the actor they've chosen to play Scientology's topper David Miscavige, Andrew Perez, is undeniably charismatic and rivetingly scary.

His recreations of public Miscavige speeches go well beyond simple Rich Little-like impersonations, he genuinely creates a "character" of considerable human dimension. In the fictionalized dramatic recreations of the Church's inner workings, Perez dazzles so astoundingly that one wonders why he's not already on the road to the same kind of superstardom that celebrity Scientology church-member Tom Cruise is on. Perez is clearly a great actor. The camera loves him and I think audiences would love to see him in more movies (as opposed to what seems to be his only role since making this movie, a bit part in some TV show).

Hell, if Miscavige ever chose to produce his own approved biopic of himself, he'd be well advised to sign up Perez for the role. The kid exudes power and charisma, and that's what Miscavige has in spades.

This is not a bad picture by any means. It has elements that do provide considerable entertainment value. At times, the movie even flirts with Oppenheimer potential. There are a few sequences where Theroux is filming Scientology types as they are filming him in turn. These duelling cameras moments come close to capturing the kind of picture this could have been, if it had been a real movie made by real artists - not just another glorified TV documentary.


My Scientology Movie is a Kinosmith release. Canadian playdates include:
February 6 & 8 Victoria Film Festival, Victoria, BC
February 17 – 23 Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, Toronto, ON
February 24 – March 2 Globe Cinema, Calgary, AB
March 3 – 5 Salt Spring Film Festival, Salt Spring, BC
April 14 – 18 Bytowne, Ottawa, ON