Full disclosure: I'm a huge conspiracy buff.
Not in the sense that I believe in UFOs, hybrid alien-human star babies, FEMA death camps or many of the other theories that fuel the hearts and minds of the delightfully paranoid. I'm just a fan of the idea of conspiracies. That one can construct an intricate and detailed web of connections and associations that, with very little effort or even imagination, can explain any number of events as being the intended result of planning by some nefarious cabal of secret power mongers.
Knowing that, it's small wonder that I enjoyed watching The Truth Is Out There unfold as it does. The new documentary by Phil Leirness examines the world of conspiracy theories in a refreshing and novel way: Through the eyes of a conspiracy buff. Or, at least, alongside the eyes of one. Namely Dean Haglund, an actor and comedian probably best known from his role as Langley, a recurring role on TV's The X Files. (Appropriately, his character was one of "The Lone Gunmen," a trio of conspiracy enthusiasts that were consulted from time to time by FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder on the show. The three had such a wide following that Fox produced a short-lived spin-off series -- the pilot show of which was so eerily close to the events of 9-11, which was still 8 months away when the episode aired, that it's become a part of conspiracy folklore itself.)
During the course of the film (a long watch, by the way, with a running time of nearly two and a half hours), Leirness follows Haglund around the United States, Canada and parts of Europe as he drops into various New Age expos, UFO conventions and one-on-one interviews with proponents of assorted conspiracy-flavored viewpoints on one subject or another. One challenge of a project of this undertaking is how do you decide what to focus on? There are, after all, conspiracies around so many things -- politics, the economy, medicine, UFOs, etc. -- so how to pick where to point the camera must have been a head scratcher, right?
No such decision necessary, as it turns out. Leirness and Haglund have created a film that is like a Whitman Sampler of conspiracy theories. But rather than being a mishmash of earnestly crazy kooks, spouting outrageous claims about the groups and bogeymen in the shadows, what emerges is a thoughtful journey of Haglund interacting with people who lay out their takes in measured, reasonable tones. Never mind that one woman claims to be the hybrid product of humans and aliens. Or the strident radio announcer decrying the impending jack boots of the New World Order. Everyone is allowed to speak about their subject without interruption or objection by Haglund, who alternately nods with understanding or expresses surprise at some revelation of information.
Leirness has then assembled the material in a very cool way. It almost feels like a music score the way the narrative travels back and forth between the conspiracies and the subjects speaking about them. The documentary is broken down almost in terms of categories -- the UFO and aliens in one section, the government elements in another, medical subjects all together as well. What emerges is a picture of how the threads of these various stories begin to weave (or sometimes tangle) together.
As Haglund finds each subject and urges them to expound on their complot du jour, the UFO conspiracies begin to blend neatly into the medical conspiracies which then find connections in the government conspiracies. There's no one subject -- Haglund included -- that explains or assumes that. There's no need -- the film does that itself but never obviously -- you're left to discover that "conspiracy of conspiracies" yourself, if you can separate the forest from the trees.
There's a subplot of sorts as Haglund interacts with a motivational psychotherapist, Dr. Nicki J. Monti, attempting to delve into the truth of the Self. It seems the most circuitous route in the movie, as Haglund deflects a number of Dr. Monti's attempts at peeling back elements that Dean himself proclaims may have been getting in the way of his life and career over the years.
Back on the trail of the ever-growing host of conspiracies, the longer that each subject talks about their subject, with Haglund alternately wide-eyed or perhaps aghast at the information being revealed, the more often the conspiracies begin to teeter under their own convoluted logic. None of them actually gets to the point of falling completely to pieces. In fact, in a few cases, the information is downright compelling with few seams showing.
By the film's end you're left with the idea that the truth must, surely, be "out there" -- whether at a distance from the reality you know or just around the corner, one can't be sure -- and there is sure to be at least one or two threads viewers might be enticed to pick up and follow for themselves, if only to prove, once and for all, that truth can't possibly be stranger than fiction.
Marc Hershon is the co-author of the book I Hate People (Little, Brown and Company; June 2009) with Jonathan Littman. Marc is also a screenwriter who has written several television movies for the Hallmark Channel, including Santa Jr., Monster Makers, and Wedding Daze.