Documentary Review: Scientologists talk about being “Over the Rainbow” with L. Ron

 

“Over the Rainbow” is a mesmerizing, diffuse and scattered movie about odd beliefs, deeply-held convictions and Scientology.

It’s kind of a mess as it starts out more about the first two — specifically how people who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens REALLY believe it, and show clinical responses to this “experience” that match victims of rape and other violent trauma — and then backs into the third.

A genuine Harvard psychologist, Dr. Susan Clancy marvels how people talk about alleged alien abduction as both the trauma of their lives, and as the most “positive” thing that they’ve ever experienced.

“Their perspective changes.”

Then the movie settles into Scientology, speaking to true believers, church employees and one woman in particular who fled and whose awful experience there is verified when we overhear a threatening, double-talk phone call from her DEEP-in-the-cult Dad that she puts on speaker phone so that she can be filmed in mid-argument with him.

But even then, filmmaker Jeffrey Peixoto wanders off topic, if indeed he ever had one. Academics speak of “new” religions in what appears to be an effort to normalize the science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard’s invented belief system, church status and authoritarian church hierarchy. All “new” religions are easily questioned, but “when you’re in it, it becomes your reality.”

True believers say “LRH would create an island of sanity” in an unhappy, confused world. He “came here to reverse the downward spiral” of humanity.

He came here to get rich and get out of paying taxes, kids. But never mind.

There are the Thomas Kincade “painting” sellers who demonstrate E-Meter “audits,” the pseudo-scientific gadget that records your unfiltered responses to probing questions about morality, ethics and your past lives. If Peixoto aims to show how gullible and “sentimental” Scientologists are, that they think this overtly “sentimental” tripe is art, well-played.

We visit The Ranch School and the New Horizons Academy where teachers talk of the goals such places have and where they fit in Scientology’s lifelong learning (with that “billion year contract” you sign with the church) promoted there.

And Lara Anderson, the woman who left, recounts the abuse she suffered, the “punishment” meted out to her father — for years — in the church’s “rehabilitation project.” Did Peixoto stumble into her, mid-project, and not have the nerve to make his movie about her and lose all the “abduction” stuff that opens it?

An archivist is inexplicably here, showing us the U.C. Santa Barbara American religious documents archive.

Peixoto fixates on odd images — this homemade Boston terrier painting on a table next to Barrett Brown, a journalist who simply considers a pioneering “technology driven religion,” and that “If the Ganges is appropriate for worship” then the river of information that is the Internet is, as well.

And we get just a glimpse of Clearwater, Florida, the Gulf Coast town the church basically bought out and took over, where Scientologists are kept so busy that they can’t even entertain the idea of going to the beach.

There are much better, more pointed and damning documentaries about Scientology, and no doubt there are church-sponsored “explainers” that trumpet its virtues.

Peixota has made a spacey film that is almost neutral on its subject, a soft-spoken pastel-colored meditation on Scientology that never wrestles it into the larger thesis of the psychology of “belief” he might have been aiming for.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, some profanity, disturbing accounts of violence

Credits: Directed by Jeffrey Peixoto.  A 1091 release.

Running time: 1:13

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