Clearly A Cult

Logan Hill reviews Alex Gibney’s latest film, Going Clear, which got a standing ovation at Sundance last week:

Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, The Armstrong Lie) powerfully adapts many of the most devastating accusations from Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright’s book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. First-hand sources, including Best Picture winner Paul Haggis, make emotional witnesses on the screen, dramatically offering their accounts of alleged physical abuse at the hands of Scientology leaders, including church head David Miscavige himself. The film draws a stark contrast between the group’s billion-dollar real-estate investments and the sub-minimum-wage pay most Scientology workers receive, which the film says averages about 40 cents per hour. There are awful stories of families torn apart and children separated from parents, a no-holds-barred critique of L. Ron Hubbard’s self-fictionalized biography (including allegations that Hubbard beat his wife, and comical mockery of the group’s belief in the “galactic overlord” Xenu).

Kate Erbland found the film “deeply unsettling”:

Miscavige comes across as an insane megalomaniac, but Gibney also fixes his gaze on a more meaningful target: Tom Cruise.

The brightest star in the Scientology constellation, Gibney and the ex-members don’t balk at making it clear that Cruise doesn’t just know about the organization’s transgressions, he also directly profits from them. Moreover, Gibney asserts that the church was directly responsible for the end of Cruise’s marriage to Nicole Kidman and that they additionally worked to turn the couple’s children against their mother.

Going Clear isn’t so much a call to action as a warning to Scientology that their methods and beliefs will no longer stand and that things are finally being done about it, people are no longer afraid to talk, and that the world will soon view them in a different manner — a shot, not a warning.

This shot came about a decade ago:

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Update from a reader:

In addition to Matt and Trey’s efforts, the movie Bowfinger (1999) took a pretty good and not too veiled shot at the cult by depicting an organization called “Mind Head.” There are some hilarious sequences of the control they wield over their members.

Back to Gibney’s film, Sharan Shetty takes note of the financial angle:

Going Clear ends by noting that the church has fewer than 50,000 members but still possesses more than $3 billion in assets. Most of this wealth can be attributed to Scientology’s long, tortured, and ultimately triumphant battle with the IRS to be deemed a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. That victory is perhaps Miscavige’s keystone achievement: as the film details, and as the New York Times reported in 1997, Miscavige used a combination of lawsuits, backroom negotiations, and private investigators digging up dirt on IRS officials to secure Scientology’s status as a religion.

Scott Beggs gets the willies over the PR push against Going Clear:

[Aforementioned film critic Kate Erbland] hooked me by talking about how unsettling it is. Then, we got an email from a spokesperson for Scientology, that sealed the deal on my wanting to see the anti-Scientology movie. In the email, the representative:

  • Implored us not to be a “mouthpiece for Alex Gibney’s propaganda”
  • Chastised us for not first contacting the church for comment before posting a review of a movie

For the record, it’s not our policy to contact anyone before feeling double plus free to post our takes on movies we’ve seen (although Chris suggested we should get a statement from Ultron before reviewing Avengers 2). Also for the record, asking someone to post your official statement without vetting often goes better if you don’t open by accusing them of being propagandists by proxy.

And Katie Rife gives us a glimpse of the “social media smear campaign”:

One day after the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, an account with the moniker Freedom Media Ethics, not quite as flashy as “Psychiatry: An Industry Of Death” but close enough, appeared on Twitter. The account, which as of this writing has 136 followers, links to a website credited to Church of Scientology International which contains a statement describing Gibney’s movie as “glorifying bitter, vengeful apostates expelled as long as three decades ago from the Church, [with a] one-sided result [that] is as dishonest as Gibney’s sources.” The website also compares the film to Rolling Stone’s UVA story and lists disparaging nicknames for each of Gibney’s sources in the film—The Soulless Sellout, The Hollywood Hypocrite, etc.

How Gibney has responded to such bullying tactics:

Great publicity. You can’t buy that, but they could, and we were the beneficiaries.