Wild Wild Country: The story of a cult or peaceful society?

Photo credit: Wild Wild Country/Netflix; Acquired via Netflix Media Center
Photo credit: Wild Wild Country/Netflix; Acquired via Netflix Media Center /

The Duplass brothers test the documentary waters with a look at the rise of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in the newest Netflix docu-series, Wild Wild Country.

If shows like Making a Murderer, Jinx and last year’s The Keepers have proved anything, it’s that audiences have found something to resonate with in these long documented stories of tragedy, corruption, and crime. The format, which allows for hours and hours of buildup and development, does these complex and twisted stories justice by taking their time and letting the content shimmer in little by little.

Hell, it’s gotten so popular that shows like American Vandal have even parodied it. But the release of the newest docu-series, Wild Wild Country, may contain the most insane story to date out of these previous shows.

Photo credit: Wild Wild Country/Netflix; Acquired via Netflix Media Center
Photo credit: Wild Wild Country/Netflix; Acquired via Netflix Media Center /

Wild Wild Country, produced by the Duplass brothers, unearths an almost completely forgotten part of United States history. It’s a story that, unless you’ve been an Oregon regular for more than 40 years, you more than likely have not heard of in any way. But believe it or not, the focus of this story received all kinds of statewide and even national attention, being sold as one of the tensest inner wars within the U.S. in quite some time.

Grim instances of corruption, crime, among other even more malicious actions make this one of the most frightening topics to be tackled in this form since arguably Jinx. But does the ambitious project created by brothers Chapman and Maclain Way simply shock the viewer with its subject matter or is there more to appreciate about the limited series?

A Sprawling Utopia

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Wild Wild Country, as the title so strongly hints at, is an absolutely wild ride from start to finish. At its beginning, the series has a slew of interviews from older Oregon folks, briefly touching on what happened, giving the audience a reason to hype themselves. Clips highlight the seriousness of the situation, with one clip even claiming that the story is so insane that if a book were ever written on the entire ordeal, it’d read more like a fictional novel than a true-life account.

The story in question began with the charismatic Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who amassed a large following in India, due to his free-spirited beliefs, even being called a sex guru, thanks to the society’s willingness to indulge in their sexual desires in almost any way they pleased, among other things. Bhagwan’s controversial ideals led to him seeking a new area to build his desired utopia. With fierce second-in-command secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, leading the way for him as a public voice, Bhagwan and company managed to find their little strip of paradise: a small, practically empty patch of rural land in Oregon. At the beginning of the 1980s, Bhagwan bought this area and moved him and his followers to it to help build a sprawling city named Rajneesh, appropriately, which is where Wild Wild Country spends much of its time focusing on.

Photo credit: Wild Wild Country/Netflix; Acquired via Netflix Media Center
Photo credit: Wild Wild Country/Netflix; Acquired via Netflix Media Center /

The Way brothers go deep in entering this surreal world of free-spirited societies, the negative reaction that ensued from the Oregonian locals, and the multiple factors that led to its ultimate downfall. Hours and hours of archive footage is unearthed, giving us a closer look at exactly what happened inside the small town. Footage of hidden rituals, documents of exactly who went there and at what time, among some other surprising things, Wild Wild Country deserves massive props for being willing to tackle such a large topic, especially considering the dangerous implications of it, as well as its forgotten nature. More so than simply another crime documentary, Wild Wild Country documents the rise and fall of an entire community, making the story even more insane, yet captivating to learn about.

Looking Back

While the story itself is already incredibly engaging (not to mention disturbing and unsettling), what really brings Wild Wild Country a sense of authenticity (or at least evidence of in-depth research) are the multiple interviews scattered throughout that bring a level of perspective to the entire situation, for better or worse. We see interviews with the Oregonian locals, who even today, harbor a strange resentment towards the Rajneeshees, appearing openly bigoted towards the group and gladly proclaiming their eventual banishment from the area. It’s the type of interview that stands to portray the locals as honestly as any interview could do, giving a multitude of reasons as to why they have adapted this behavior.

Photo credit: Wild Wild Country/Netflix; Acquired via Netflix Media Center
Photo credit: Wild Wild Country/Netflix; Acquired via Netflix Media Center /

The interviews don’t just stop there, as the Way brothers take to interviewing various former members of the Rajneeshees, including a seemingly innocent-looking Australian woman and a mostly mild-mannered attorney who once represented Bhagwan. As the series goes on, their inner motives are uncovered, bringing to life the very real admiration for the Indian guru. Despite their admiration, the two end up with incredibly different perspectives on the situation, making for an intriguing contrast on the story and what each took away from it. Even during some of the more unsettling and awkward parts of their interviews, there’s never an attempt to demonize them for their honesty, providing a surprisingly unbiased treatment of such a subject matter.

The real kicker to Wild Wild Country‘s general insanity is the unsettling interview with Bhawgwan’s former secretary, Ma Anand Sheela. Sheela begins her interview by saying that at this point, she has nothing to lose. This paves the way for an intriguing interview that turns downright grim as more information on the story is gradually revealed.

Sheela, a kindly old woman at this point in her life, is showcased to be far different from her younger days as the provocative, offensive and sharp-tongued spokesperson who served as the public handler for Bhagwan. Her control over the society leads to some grim finales, making Wild Wild Country almost as much about her than Bhagwan. It’s frightening, yet fascinating to see how these events resonated with Sheela and company after years of looking back, making this arguably the most in-depth accounting of the story ever put to screen.

“You did not understand Bhagwan…”

Photo credit: Wild Wild Country/Netflix; Acquired via Netflix Media Center
Photo credit: Wild Wild Country/Netflix; Acquired via Netflix Media Center /

The Way brothers’ method in telling this story to us is what makes me, on a personal level, admire Wild Wild Country so much. When looking at shows like The Keepers or Making a Murderer, it comes across as pretty obvious as to what the show’s entire agenda is. More often than not, the victims of a certain crime are often the subject of the documentary, taking on the role of a tragic protagonist in a sense. We’re mostly meant to feel bad for their case and for the most part, it’s completely understandable to want to structure your documentary as such.

However, Wild Wild Country does not do this, or at least it doesn’t try to. The Way brothers leave their personal opinions out of the show, from what I can tell, and just focus on telling a forgotten story for the world to see. Interviews are not manipulated for the audience to feel a desired reaction and nobody is demonized by the creators of the show. Interview subjects are free to speak as they desire, which may lead to some uncomfortable moments, especially with Sheela.

In fact, my only flaw is that it can be a little too unbiased. Even during some particularly dark revelations, there’s hardly a moment where the Brothers attempt to pry further into those moments, probably out of risk of alienating the interview subjects. It’s understandable in terms of making the film, but here, it just gets incredibly uncomfortable and I’m not entirely sure if that’s what the brothers were intending. Regardless, it’s still admirable that a show can be free of overly strong agendas, making way for the storytelling as a result.


Wild Wild Country may currently stand as one of the most disturbing entries into Netflix’s catalog in a long time. This story of corruption, illegal immigration, and crime serves not only as a captivating watch to binge on over the weekend (it’s only six episodes long), but as a whole, stands as a fascinating cultural study, examining the state of acceptance in rural Oregon, as well as an internal civil war between a narrow-minded, but understandably concerned Oregon community and a well-intentioned but ultimately tragic group with some dark secrets. The Way brothers’ ambition to tackle such an insane story in excruciating detail is one to applaud, as it stands as an eye-opening journey into one of America’s forgotten past times.

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The interviews and subject matter may be a little too uncomfortable for some, as they can get fairly deep and brutally honest. The multiple twists and turns are genuinely unnerving and downright disgusting, but as it stands, I believe Wild Wild Country is a necessary watch for anybody with a Netflix subscription. It is incredibly insightful on just how far evil can spread, even in the kindest of communities and if there’s another thing to learn from this, it’s that one might do themselves well to step back and look at both sides before deciding what to support and believe.

It’s also possible that one may check twice before drinking the water from their tap after watching this.

Final Verdict: 9/10

Wild Wild Country is available to stream now on Netflix.