Film review: My Scientology Movie (2015)

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I am both fascinated and disturbed by cults. Fascinated because of my interest in the psychology of the kind of people who are drawn to cults and then get indoctrinated, and disturbed because of the often tragic consequences that ensue to them and their loved ones. One of the most pernicious cults is the highly secretive Church of Scientology, notorious for the reports of how they exploit and abuse cult members and viciously attack anyone who manages to escape from their clutches, not to mention anyone that seeks to shine a light on them. As a result, even some of the people who have escaped are too frightened to talk publicly about what they went through.

This article in Vice gives the account of someone who managed to escape the church and describes the methods they use to suck people into it and what life was like once you had been recruited. The person is disguised and has their voice altered because of fear of being recognized by the church and hounded.

More comprehensive treatments can be found in the 2013 book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright and the 2015 Alex Gibney documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief based on that book. I wrote about this cult before and reviewed both the book and the film.

In an interview at the Sundance Film Festival where the film was screened, Gibney and Wright discuss how they were fascinated by the question of how it could be that people who were smart and idealistic and caring, by no means simpletons, could get sucked into an organization that was so exploitative and abusive. These people, once they left, were themselves shocked at how they did not see what was so obvious to them now.

A few days ago, I came across another interesting documentary My Scientology Movie (2015) by BBC documentarian Louis Theroux. In his earlier two documentaries on the Westboro Baptist Church titled America’s Most Hated Family (2007) and America’s Most Hated Family IN CRISIS (2011), he chronicled the decline of the Phelps family and their single-minded hostility to homosexuality. Those two showed Theroux’s gonzo journalistic style where, unlike Gibney who is a usually unseen and unheard presence behind the camera, Theroux is right in there, engaging with his subjects.

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