“Going Clear,” the much-anticipated documentary about Scientology by veteran filmmaker Alex Gibney, caused a ruckus at Sundance on Sunday, resurfacing the most damaging accusations against the religion including a campaign to break up Tom Cruise’s marriage to Nicole Kidman.
Since the defection from the church in recent years by prominent members like Paul Haggis and investigative work including the book by Lawrence Wright on which the film is based, the worst of Scientology is already out there.
Slave labor on Scientology’s Sea Org boats, members forced to “disconnect” from disobedient family members, alleged physical abuse by church leader David Miscavige, maintaining a prison camp to punish and control senior church officials — the documentary revisits all of this and more.
But that does not diminish the power of image and story-telling by Gibney to remind viewers of the insidious power of L. Ron Hubbard’s church that has long focused on Hollywood for its most enthusiastic recruiting, and which purports to be a vehicle for finding a life free of anxiety.
Gibney interviews several senior members of Scientology who have left the church in the past half-dozen years, suffering continual harassment by the church and the abandonment by family members as a result. They admit to submitting to punishment by Miscavige, who kept some of them in a private Florida prison camp where they were humiliated and physically abused for years.
Those former senior church officials — in particular former Inspector General Marty Rathbun — indict Miscavige on many counts. But he indicts himself when it comes to a campaign aimed at Tom Cruise, by far the church’s most famous and important member.
Rathbun, formerly Miscavige’s top lieutenant, said that the church was determined to end Cruise’s marriage to Kidman, whose father was a psychologist and thus skeptical of Scientology teachings — and had alienated Cruise from Miscavige.
Rathbun said he hired investigators to follow Kidman and “arranged through a Scientology consigliere who physically wiretapped” Kidman’s phone. He hired experts to turn their two children away from Kidman, and arrange for Cruise to get custody.
“It all went according to plan,” he said, and Cruise and Miscavige became extremely close again after the divorce in 2001. The church secretly videotaped Cruise’s “auditing” sessions, a kind of counseling within the church meant to be private. Cruise, said Rathbun, “drank the Kool-Aid.”
Then the church sought out Nazanin Boniadi — an actress now on “Homeland” — to groom her to be Cruise’s girlfriend, moving her to L.A. from Europe, sending her to the dentist to remove braces, shopping for her at Burberry.
The movie could be boiled down to two resonant figures: despite international expansion, membership in the church has dwindled to just 50,000 at this point.
And that because of its non-profit status, the church has more than $3 billion in assets, and $1.5 billion on its balance sheet.
The documentary will air on HBO.