In Gibney’s HBO doc “Going Clear” Scientology is a “Rogue Nation”

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An argument could be made “Rogue Nation,” the subtitle of the upcoming fifth Tom Cruise “Mission Impossible” movie, applies to Scientology as well.

Which is why Alex Gibney’s new documentary makes it.

chboAccording to “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” – Sunday on HBO – Scientology is a church the way organized crime is a business.

Gibney previously explored the cost of blind trust in religion in the documentary “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In the House of God,” which explored clergy abuse a St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis.

In “Going Clear,” the use of the word ‘belief’ instead of ‘faith’ in the subtitle is of course deliberate, since what Scientology requires people to believe defies the good faith of its members, numerous of whom – including Oscar winner Paul Haggis – shake their heads at their own credulity in the film.

Auditing, the get-to-know you part of Scientology, is described by former members as actually helping seekers and searchers discover something about themselves. But it’s like boiling a frog. Start with cold water so it doesn’t jump out of the pot.

By the time a member, like Haggis, reaches a rarefied level, and made enough contributions, they become privy to its absurd philosophy. In it aliens in spaceships dropped penitents into volcanos followed by atom bombs to create thetans – or evil forces – that flood into our bodies at birth.

Similar themes also appear in the science fiction books of its late founder L. Ron Hubbard, rarely seen footage of whom seen here strongly resembles the garrulous charlatan portrayed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “The Master.”

The prolific Gibney essentially highlights what his co-screenwriter Lawrence Wright already uncovered in his groundbreaking expose “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief.”

But seeing is believing and credit Gibney’s film, which had a brief theatrical run after premiering at Sundance Film Festival, for shining the spotlight on Scientology’s hidden claims and abuses.

Haggis, whose film “Crash” won the best picture Oscar, is joined by various former high-ranking Scientologists, labeled “suppressive persons” for their defection. And Gibney uses dramatic recreations and transitional illustrations to support their harrowing tales. A dramatization of an incident in which Scientology leader David Miscavige forces imprisoned members to play musical chairs to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in order to stay in the group adds little to something already horrifying and mystifying.

But his use of rarely seen footage is riveting.  Miscavige is shown at the podium at Scient0logy celebrations with the pomp and circumstance of a Nationalist Socialist rally, with Tom Cruise his eager and erratic second in command, saluting him and a giant photo of Hubbard, affectionately called LRH.

Cruise is the Scientology poster boy and Gibney and Wright chronicle how his marriage to Nicole Kidman, and the year-long filming of “Eyes Wide Shut,” so affected his dedication Miscavige worked to break it up. No mention is made of Katie Holmes, but there is a disturbing account involving using the actress Nazanin Boniadi, who plays a CIA analyst on “Homeland,” as a romantic lure for Cruise.

The filmmakers litany of abuse and harassment includes the claim that confessions made during auditing are routinely used to blackmail wavering members, like the actor John Travolta.

Almost every incident detailed is so dramatic it could be made into a separate documentary. It’s hard to muster much sympathy for the IRS but Scientology’s campaign of infiltration, wiretapping and harassment against the agency in pursuit of tax-exempt status – not to mention the agency finally granting it – should outrage all Americans. “Going Clear” makes a case for revisiting this.

Its tax exemption allowed Scientology to accumulate billions of dollars in property and assets while behaving like rogue nation. And though it seems odd that the first trailers for Cruise’s film, which opens in June, appeared the week before Gibney’s expose, there are no coincidences in Scientology.

Clearly.

 

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