In the early 90s, two actors I liked– Kirstie Alley, John Travolta – came to my hometown of Wichita, Kansas. I wanted to go see them just so I could say I’d kind of met them, but I wasn’t allowed because they were actually just in town to help dedicate the opening of something called a Church of Scientology Mission. I had no idea what that was, but everyone in town I heard talking about it referred to it as some kind of Hollywood cult. I didn’t so much care about that. I just knew that I really liked Kirstie Alley in Cheers, and loved her with John Travolta in Look Who’s Talking. Ten years later South Park’s infamous 2005 episode “Trapped in the Closet” aired and informed everyone what Scientologists actually believe:
Well, it’s been another decade since that episode aired, and now Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, The Armstrong Lie, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) has a buzzy documentary on the way called Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, based on Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and is now scheduled to premiere on HBO on Sunday, March 9, at 8 PM. Here’s the first trailer:
Going Clear features vintage footage of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard as well as rare sequences shot inside Scientology gatherings. However, considering how much Scientology has been such a wall of secrets over the years thus leading to a wide variety of especially salacious rumors it seems only natural that the main thing audiences might want to get out of Going Clear are juicy details. Did Tom Cruise basically keep Katie Holmes hostage for years? Is John Travolta really gay? If that’s what you want you’re might be disappointed. Some at Sundance were disappointed with Going Clear just as a documentary, arguing you were better off just reading Wright’s book. Others thought it was an remarkably potent bit of filmmaking. Others simply did the dirty work for us and listed all the doc’s biggest bombshells:
- It is implied that Travolta is gay, and has been blackmailed about that by the Church for decades.
- The Church reportedly sabotaged Tom Cruise’s marriage to Nicole Kidman because her father is a psychologist, a big no-no in Scientology land.
- Cruise was apparently influenced to actually wiretap Kidman’s phones toward the end of their marriage.
- After the breakup with Kidman, the Church repeatedly groomed young Hollywood actresses to be Cruise’s next bride.
- One former top official says Scientology’s leader privately mocks Cruise’s “perverse sex-life,” whatever that means.
As you’d expect, the Church has denounced the documentary, claiming it is all based on previously invalidated reports even though Gibney did interview multiple former Church members on camera for Going Clear, including Crash director Paul Haggis. Also as you’d probably expect, Gibney says the point was not to simply feed the world multiple National Enquirer “Tom Cruise is really so…” headlines. There are an increasing number of allegations that the Church utilizes forced labor and other forms of abuse, and former officials say the only thing that will put an end to it will be the IRS stripping the Church of its nonprofit status or megaphones like Cruise and Travolta turning against it.
But, to Gibney Going Clear is about more than just Scientology. He told The Hollywood Reporter, “You can see how abusive institutions get when they have a lot of power and money and when they become guided by a small group of people at the top, perhaps even one person […] It’s really hard-wired into all of us, the psychology of wanting to find certainty in faith that allows you to do the most reprehensible things because you believe the ends justify the means.” However, I am left wondering if we really want to probe that deeply into something like Scientology, or if we just really want to see if the Tabloids have been right for all of these years.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief will premiere on HBO on Sunday, March 9, at 8 PM