When we first returned to Los Angeles after our daughter began college here, we had dinner together with our nephew who lived in the Hollywood Hills at the time. Several of our favorite restaurants are on Franklin Avenue, right across the street from the Church of Scientology Celebrity Center International.
It boasts such a gorgeous, inviting edifice --- a stately building surrounded by exquisite trees and landscaping. I can understand why people would want to pay a visit, perhaps out of curiosity or maybe to learn more about the Church and its teachings. But after seeing "My Scientology Movie", I wouldn't go in that place on a bet.
Louis Theroux, a BBC correspondent known for elucidating documentaries, had requested permission from the Church of Scientology more than 10 years ago to make a film about their members and their beliefs. Theroux did not intend to mock the Church, only to present more or less their side of a story, which has been much maligned.
Scientology was founded in 1952 by sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard in Los Angeles. His personal goal was to become a famous film director, so he gathered Hollywood notables to help spread his gospel. After his death in 1986, David Miscavige was named his successor in 1987 at the age of 27, and under his leadership the Church has taken stranger, more sinister turns.
Theroux and crew, including his co-writer and director, John Dower, and Oscar-winning producer Simon Chinn, could not make a more traditional documentary because they did not have access to the Church itself. A decision was made to hire actors to portray Miscavige and the best-known Scientologist on the planet, Tom Cruise, along with other key members.
They also enlisted the aid of prominent former members, Marty Rathbun, who was once the "Inspector General" of the Church and Jeff Hawkins, a 35-year participant whose wife was unwilling to leave. He subsequently penned a book entitled "Counterfeit Dreams" about the dark side of Scientology. These men detail the many abuses suffered by congregants at the hands of Miscavige and others.
One rather gruesome and terrifying practice involved the imprisonment of so-called errant members in a room on the compound called "The Hole". Theroux and Dower utilized their actors to simulate the graphic treatment of people forced into this detention based on the recollections of Rathbun.
At one point during the filming, Theroux questions Rathbun's participation in these events, and whether or not he realized the repercussions such treatment could elicit. Rathbun has endured great personal admonishment from the Church of Scientology, used to discredit and silence former members. He is constantly hounded by current churchgoers known as "Squirrel Busters". Because of this, and threats to his foster children, Rathbun takes great umbrage with Theroux's accusations. Their relationship on screen cools greatly following that encounter.
Despite the pretty surroundings and well-dressed participants in the Church's own videos, Scientology is shown by Theroux to be a frightening cult, which can be at times violent --- and at all times controlling. Watching Theroux trying to gain access via a public road to their compound in the desert is chilling. These fanatics are dangerous --- represented in over 170 countries worldwide, and their numbers are growing.
Opinion: See It Now!
Remember the old joke about going to a fight and a hockey game broke out? Well, let me sum up a new film called "My Scientology Movie" thusly: I went to a screening of a documentary and a horror film broke out.
Over 10 years in the making, or at least in the planning, writer and chief interviewer, Louis Theroux, attempts to infiltrate the Church of Scientology to see why ordinary people exhibit extraordinary behavior, or in other words, what makes it tick. Theroux's easy-going style and likeable demeanor will endear him to moviegoers, but not so much to the Church. Rebuffed at every turn, Theroux learns that Scientology executives discovered a film was being made about their religion, so they turned the tables and began filming Theroux and his people.
Citing "traditional access" as the lifeblood of any documentary, Theroux and director John Dower wondered how to make their movie without such connections. They ultimately decided to hire actors to portray events and behavior purported to be part of the Church's philosophy. But they were fortunate to enlist the help of former members who "blew", i.e., left the organization, and who provide indispensable insights into what really goes on behind the scenes.
Regarded as whistleblowers, two of them spent over 30 years with the Church. Chief among them is Marty Rathbun who was called the "Inspector General", actually second-in-command to the current leader David Miscavige. Even that name sounds like a horror character. More on him later.
Another key source of information is former member Jeff Hawkins who left his wife behind when he blew. She is a big part of this film as one who tries to thwart the filmmakers at every turn. Theroux stands up to those who would deny him access, even on a public road they claim is their private property. If this is sounding like the Church of Scientology is a cult, one of the whistleblowers describes it as the most nefarious and dangerous cult in the Western hemisphere in the last 50 years.
In brief, the Church's followers believe that anything good that happens to them is the result of Scientology teachings and methodologies. And it is the only way to save their soul, now and for their future lives. It should be noted here that some members talk to ashtrays.
So is the Church of Scientology an organization that does good things, or is it a brainwashing money grab? High-ranking members can invest up to two million dollars, but one poor young man invested $50,000 to buy everything in sight --- a requirement --- related to founder L. Ron Hubbard.
One especially disturbing aspect of the Church leadership is embodied in Miscavige, He has been the head of the Church since 1987 when he was named Chairman of the Board at age twenty-seven. He is now 56, and "My Scientology Movie" paints him as a megalomaniac. He films everything, and if a member makes him angry or disagrees with him, that person is dubbed an "SP", or "suppressive person". SP's are dealt with in "The Hole", a special conference room --- replicated for this film --- where a raving Miscavige belittles and demeans the offenders.
Actor Andrew Perez plays Miscavige in "My Scientology Movie", and he is truly scary in his portrayal. Actor Rob Alter portrays Church of Scientology role model and poster boy Tom Cruise, who is an extremely close friend of Miscavige.
For his part, Theroux says he is willing to consider the good points of the Church. It is "capable of enlarging the soul as well as crushing the spirit; a tool for wickedness, but also of kindness and self-sacrifice".
Composer Dan Jones imbues "My Scientology Movie" with an eerie soundtrack that, at times, does give it the feel of a horror film. Whatever you take away from this movie, one thing is likely. You may never look at Tom Cruise in the same way again.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!