samarthbhaskar’s review published on Letterboxd:
A couple of things. Firstly, I just can't get animated about a bunch of rich, white people aspiring to deeper, more meaningful lives by looking to the afterlife. Instead of feeling unfulfilled, listless and broken then turning to the world and helping people around them for meaning, they turn to science fiction? Yawn.
The abuse in the film is real and not to be overlooked. But there is worse and more rampant abuse that gets little to none of the same empathy. What's worse is that the other kind of abuse is state and society sanctioned. I have a hard time pitying people who throw their lot in with a cult. I'm more enraged on behalf of people who are structurally and repetitively abused by huge, inescapable institutions.
Lastly, on a doc level, I thought the film was lazy. It really let L Ron Hubbard off the hook. When he flees the country they just say he went to "parts unknown." No serious documentarian would allow that in his film. They also glossed over so many details about his military service, his lies about his military record and injuries, his domestic abuse history. The fact that all this was just accepted wholesale by his followers and contemporaries is what is interesting. Imagine a non-white man getting away with any of this. It's impossible.
And if you don't want to make this about race (why not by the way?), then some exploration about the context in which all this leeway was afforded to Hubbard is worthwhile. What was about it about America in the 1950s that allowed Dianetics to become and stay popular?