Get thee behind me, Thetan

GOING CLEAR, Alex Gibney’s exposé of the Church of Scientology (Scientology: literally, “science science”), is a proper documentary. I wish MAGICIAN had those chops. Welles deserves masterpieces and arguably the Scientologists deserve to be lost in the dust of history. But they also deserve to be exposed for what they are.

The model for Gibney’s approach is probably Errol Morris — tightly-honed interviews, carefully chosen archive, and dramatic images — a flung chair in extreme slomo makes an impression here. It’s not hugely ground-breaking but it’s meaningful, earnest, compelling, and very well made. Maybe they reuse their drone shot of the Scientology building too often, but it’s a super image, like a building opening its arms to give you a great, big, crushing hug.


It has a few really amazing figures at its centre. L. Ron Hubbard, seen in archive material, has the voice of John Huston’s Noah Cross (Paul Thomas Anderson missed a trick when he used that in THERE WILL BE BLOOD, thereby ruling it out for THE MASTER) and the smile of Uncle Milty, but is an immediately alarming creature, visibly calculating fresh perfidies in every frame of celluloid that passes. As with many cult nasties, you wonder why anyone would be taken in, but he does have a certain repulsive charisma and a free-flowing glibness.


Was the Bond villain pose really the best way to go?

David Miscavige resembles a sort of callow Ray Walston — my favourite Thetan? — nerdy in his absurd naval uniform. The leadership of cults tends to break down into two distinct types. The boss usually believes his own bullshit — he may have some kind of criminal past but his philosophy becomes holy writ even to him and so he’s totally wrapped up in the cult of himself. The second-in-commands, like high-ranking Nazis, are more of the gangster type. It’s not so relevant to them whether the faith they follow is genuine, it’s more about keeping it going and getting what they can out of it.

Then there’s Travolta and Cruise (seen in some of the really damaging maniacal interview stuff the Church never intended us to see). A lot of grinning. A sincere grin, we’re told, comes on fast and fades slowly. Hubbard is like an identikit, his eyes have no relationship to his mouth so his grin is frankly terrifying. I was never able to judge the sincerity of a Scientological smile because they DON’T FADE. They come of fast and then just FIX in position, as if the wind changed. Is it true that any Scientologist who smiles must then keep smiling for the rest of their life?


The two things missing from the documentary are not flaws, just things it occurred to me I’d like to see.

1) An interview with the former head of the IRS explaining why he granted the organisation tax-exempt status. The film lays out a pretty convincing case that he was pressured into it, but it’d be nice to hear him say so, if he’s alive. Personally, I don’t think they should reclassify Scientology as not a religion — it’s no crazier or fakier than Catholicism — I think they should just cancel tax exemption for all religions. You might allow exemption for actual charities administered by religions, if they proved they were engaged in beneficial work.

2) Analysis by an expert in micro-body language of what is going on with Hubbard, Miscavige, and ESPECIALLY Cruise in that remarkable interview. I think this could be very revealing and entertaining, in a morbid way. WHAT is Cruise laughing at? We ideally need a ticker-tape going across his forehead on which we can read all his crazy thoughts, his internal conversation/argument male voice choir. Some massive violation of the inside/outside dichotomy seems to be going on. I’m reminded of the Gentleman with Thistle-Down Hair in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, who, upon having a brilliant idea, will immediately attribute it to his interlocutor. Cruise seems like he’ll be constantly delighted/angry/terrified by all the wonderful ideas everyone around him is having and not telling him about but that he knows anyway.

It’s striking to look at this astonishing interview with Robert Blake, which Fiona discovered and watched until YouTube wore out,  and realize that Blake, convicted in a civil suit of killing his wife, and obviously out where the buses don’t run in all manner of ways, is entirely and clinically sane compared to Cruise. Blake is persistently furious (and with good reason — everyone thinks he killed his wife – -and HE DID), oppressively FORCEFUL and EXPLOSIVE, and also peppers his dialogue with 1930s newsboy expressions commingled with beat poetry and the lost language of angels: “I am FLAT BROKE! I couldn’t buy SPATS for a HUMMINGBIRD!” Interviewer Piers Morgan, he of the inflamed, evil face, doesn’t even blink at this, because he has no poetry in the place where his soul should be.


Robert Blake doesn’t NEED Scientology because any Thetans foolhardy enough to clamp themselves onto him die of toxic shock or run gibbering into the night. Or turn up riddled with bullets from an antique Walther.

Piers Morgan doesn’t need Scientology (literally, “the science of science”) because he has no personality, he’s just a vaguely malevolent vacuum packed in pink meat.


16 Responses to “Get thee behind me, Thetan”

  1. As your title suggests, what Tom needs is a little Randolph Scott.

  2. I would pay big bucks to hear “I am FLAT BROKE! I couldn’t buy SPATS for a HUMMINGBIRD!” spilling out of Bill Pullman’s cell phone while Robert Blake grins at him.

  3. That would indeed be a fine thing.

    There’s a teasing reference to “how perverted Tom Cruise is” in the doc, but no specific dirt emerges on those lines.

  4. henryholland666 Says:

    In the late 70’s I had a good friend who was a lost soul. He was constantly glomming on to anything he could find that he thought would give him Meaning and a clue about What It All Meant. Quija boards, tarot cards, LSD, EST you name it. Living in California, we were the epicenter for all that, I’m sure he would have joined Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in Guyana if he’d had the chance.

    One day we walked in to the Scientology Center on Hollywood Boulevard (where you can see all the stars). We were handed a free copy of “Dianetics” and given the spiel. I laughed when it came to the Body Thetans, but I stupidly still gave them my address and phone number.

    For over a year I’d get thick mailings of info and phone calls every week. I asked them to stop, I had no interest, to no avail. My dad finally snapped and told one of the callers to stop. He detailed the guns he had: a .45., .22’s, double-barrel shotguns, how much ammo he had etc. He told the guy that I was a minor (I was 17 at the time), that if the calls and mail didn’t stop immediately, he would seek him out and splatter his brain all over the Scientology Center.

    The calls and mailings stopped. It literally took a death threat for them to stop. I have no interest in the documentary, that’s old news for me.

    As for Robert Blake (aka Michael James Gubitosi), he was incredible as Perry Smith in “In Cold Blood”. My family loved “Baretta” too. Don’t do it!

  5. Little Bobby Gubatosi was at his best in Hal Ashby’s maudit masterpiece Second-Hand Hearts

  6. Henry, it’s old news to me too, probably because I was also in CA during the height of their recruitment efforts. My brother lost a friend to the cult, and I was often targeted by teenage female Scientology recruiters whenever I went somewhere alone. It was really bizarre that once, of all places I was accosted at a bowling alley.

    I was lucky the first time and smart enough afterward not to give them my name and address.

  7. My brother dropped into the Dianetics centre in Edinburgh (it’s still there, near the old Caley Cinema) and as a result got junk mail for five years.

    One of Stanley Kubrick’s daughters got recruited at the time of Eyes Wide Shut and has cut off all contact with her family.

    I finally saw Second-Hand Hearts and found it strained. I can well believe Barbara Harris feared for her life around Blake.

    Love him in Electra Glide in Blue and In Cold Blood.

  8. I have walked past the Scientology recruitment centre in Tottenham Court Road in London several times a week for several decades and they have never once tried to recruit me.
    Am I so obviously sane I’m not worth bothering with or so obviously comprehensively doolally even Scientologists think I’m not worth bothering with?

  9. It’s probably the former. Or maybe you don’t look wealthy enough? Try walking past in a solid gold hat and I bet you’ll get some interest.

  10. DBenson Says:

    Somebody has to mention the famous “South Park” episode. I especially loved how it closed with angry Scientologists threatening to sue, and the kids defiantly daring them to — followed by credits, where every single name has been replaced by “John Smith” or “Jane Smith”.

  11. And Chef walked off the show over that — and they felt that was a sacrifice worth making. Integrity!

  12. I also liked Blake in an episode of the TV series The Naked City, where he played a spree killer sibling of Frank Sutton. Both were convincing as killers out for a bit of fun.

  13. Scientology in Italy is not very popular – I guess lost souls have already been taken away by another more powerful parish.
    Anyway, a few years ago I happened to attend an event in my hometown which had been disguised as a conference on psychiatry. What I found instead was a sort of preposterous exhibition, with dozens of photos showing the alleged horrors perpetrated by psychiatrists all over the world. The purpose of the organizers was to prove that psychiatry is a crime against humanity whose origins can be traced back no less than to the medical experiments carried out in Nazi Germany. Some videos displaying brain surgery performed on mentally ill patients, with no other context than the ideological framework they had to support, were so shocking that I almost puked.
    As you’ll have guessed, Scientology was behind all that. Nice people, I’m told.

  14. Scientology has this massive feud with psychiatry, and they deny that depression, even post-natal depression, exists. The idea that Freudian analysis is a pseudo-scientific racket is one I’m not unsympathetic to, but depression is real and serious and medication is a likelier effective treatment than e-meters and brainwashing.

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