‘Wild Wild Country’ explores the workings of the ‘80s cult that scammed America

Noelle Henry

With its dramatic portrayal of the 1980s Rajneesh community in Oregon, Netflix’s “Wild Wild Country” is going to gain a cult following of its own.

Directed by brothers Chapman and Maclain Way, the documentary follows the Rajneesh movement of the 1980s that attracted hundreds of people across the world. Originating in India, the movement came to the United States after its leaders purchased a ranch in Oregon. “Wild Wild Country” features six episodes, each an hour long, separating the story into chapters to show how the peaceful religion turned into a violent sex cult.

The show weaves through the past and present, contrasting shots of the empty landscape of sections of present-day Oregon with footage of the movement from the 1980s. Clips of newspaper headlines, TV interviews and videos of the Rajneeshees are culminated to give a dramatic retelling of the events. The explosive content emphasizes how little the Rajneesh movement is discussed today, as we see the former leaders of the cult poison a town in Oregon, take over the small town of Antelope and rename it into Rajneeshpuram and attempt to assassinate a government official — profound events that are seldom remembered today.

“Wild Wild Country” has intense, bare-all interviews with people from every side of the Rajneesh story. The townspeople of Antelope, Oregon, Ma Anand Sheela, the cult’s former leader and government officials each depict the events that occurred from their own perspective. Sheela gives some of the most riveting stories — she first met Bhagwan, the leader of the Rajneesh, when she was sixteen. Sheela stayed with Bhagwan for decades and became the spokesperson for the Rajneesh in the 80s, when the movement was continuously accused of heinous crimes. Sheela doesn’t hide the crimes she’s committed, but instead tries to justify and show why she once believed they needed to happen.

Several interviews with current followers of Bhagwan, including Bhagwan’s lawyer Swami Prem Niren, provide a current perspective. Niren specifically tells the story of how and why he left a successful career to live in the cult. These interviews tell a starkly different story from those of former members and spectators, opting for a tale of nothing but love and devotion for Bhagwan and their time in the commune.

The show specifically emphasizes how the news and townspeople harshly persecuted the Rajneeshees. Former followers’ retelling of the Rajneesh movement builds sympathy for the cult — many cry as they’re discussing Bhagwan, making the emotional strain from media coverage evident.

The documentary complements these intense moments with enthralling music and footage of the cult provide an engaging story. Although the show’s beginning episodes feel long and spend a significant portion of time discussing the origins of the cult, every element comes together to provide an understanding of the cult’s crimes. After watching, it’s strangely evident as to why someone would join the group in the first place.

All said and done, “Wild Wild Country” is an emotional rollercoaster that makes sure both sides of the story get their moment, leaving it up to the viewer to decide who was right about the events that occurred.