Wild, Wild Country, aired as a Netflix Original on March 16, 2018, recounts the legend of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Famous as being one of the world’s most renowned and controversial gurus, Rajneesh had a vision, and Wild, Wild Country journeys through the efforts, costs and sacrifices his followers endured to achieve the unimaginable. Directed by Chapman Way and Maclain Way, the scandalous Wild, Wild Country will have audiences worldwide eager to pick the brains of Rajneesh’s followers.
Wild, Wild Country invites you to become acquainted with one of the most influential self-proclaimed gurus to have ever lived. Bhagwan Rajneesh began life as a well educated public speaker, traveling between conferences and meditation centers in India. Rajneesh offered teachings of love, free sexuality, and peace. Nicknamed the “sex guru”, it didn’t take very long before he became an icon. Individuals from all walks of life internationally and locally became in awe of the Bhagwan and his controversial teachings.
In a time of orthodox religion, Bhagwan presented an opportunity to take the path of peaceful rebellion. His followers came to India from as far as America in attempts to circumvent the nuclear family American dream. Rajneesh’s followers become so abundant that they gathered in an area named Pune in India, a place reserved for accommodating those who wish to listen to to the Bhagwan. Wild, Wild, Country allows us access into the forgotten, unique paradise as it was back then, of quiet, palm trees and peace, with curious found footage and recollections from the people who experienced it for themselves.
Wild, Wild Country soon motions forward to the colossal mission that was moving Rajneesh and all of his followers to a more capacious settlement in America. With tales of the American dream, and under the naive impression that “freedom” under the constitutional rights would be a promise of peace and prosperity, the Bhagwan soon made plans to move to West County, Oregon. With immense fascination and hefty curiosity, we watch on as an entire community builds a small city from scratch within the unruly hill land of Oregon. This move does not come without backlash; just around the corner is the sleepy town of Antelope, with a population of 40. Never before have I underestimated 40 people more than I did when Wild, Wild Country presented their other version of events.
The following timeline is rife with provocative footage of Antelope and the newly established city of Rajneeshpuram, as they go head to head in what is comparable to civil war. The irreverence shown by the people of Rajneeshpurum towards the citizens of Antelope is unparalleled, as they parade their eccentric and contentious behaviors in the face of some of the most conservative people in the USA. Wild, Wild Country demonstrates the clash that can occur when two cultures collide, two cultures with completely opposite beliefs and views. It is intriguing to watch as two communities refuse to compromise, are equal in stubbornness, and would even go as far as to abandon their own land so that the other will not claim it.
Wild, Wild Country is composed of found footage, news footage, interviews and artistic stills. All fairly common practice within the documentary world, but honestly, I must commend the editing immensely. With appealing pacing and impeccable orchestration of knowing when and where to cut different types of footage, Wild, Wild Country works to keep us in the moment. Constantly being brought between then and now lends for a captivating watch where hindsight and actuality marry for alluring effect. We are also treated to interviews from all angles, including from the citizens of Antelope, members of Rajneesh’s following and even from the Bhagwan’s personal secretary.
I realized very early on that the main focus of Wild, Wild Country was not, in fact, Bhagwan, but more the politics and foul play that he seemed to cause. Saying this, a wonder to behold comes in the form of Sheela, who was Rajneesh’s personal secretary; the lady in charge and the real face in the public eye for everything that the Rajneesh movement was. We are gifted with her modern retelling of her experiences that shocked the world. A force to be reckoned with, Sheela is unfiltered in her candid interviews, not wavering in personality or faltering in her truth. She delivers impressive and engaging stories that will leave you questioning the definition of devotion.
Overall Wild, Wild Country was a fantastic watch. With so little footage available of Rajneesh and his legacy, this docuseries really is a treat. Although some would argue the Rajneesh movement was not a cult, this docuseries will certainly sit well with cult enthusiasts and anyone who wishes to see into the world of hysterical adoration. Wild, Wild Country is incredible documentary filmmaking and I urge you to watch the rise and fall of the Rajneesh movement. Lastly, take it upon yourself to discover how a belief system of peace and sexuality can spiral into an example of greed resulting in the attempted murder of more than 700 US citizens.
Maggie has been a film critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018. Maggie gained a BSc in Film Production and Technology leading to her most notable credit for the production designer for a short film screened as part of the London Film Festival line up.