When I was a kid my parents dabbled in a number of what were then termed “alternative” lifestyle options, none of which seemed to stick. It was West Auckland in the ‘70’s and my mum and dad were curious but not delusional, so the likes of Scientology came and went in a flash. What I do remember however is visiting our post box in Glen Eden (we then lived in ‘rural’ Titirangi and our letterbox came and went) and being handed numerous pieces of follow-up collateral from the religion to chuck straight in the bin. If nothing else, this lot were KEEN – and extremely persistent.
This is at the heart of tonight’s documentary by filmmaker Alex Gibney, GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY & THE PRISON OF BELIEF. Infuriating and fascinating in turn, Gibney's film, although paying some lip service to the increased global reach of the 'religion' founded by sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard, focuses on the origins of the organisation and the personality of its founder, before tracking it chronologically. We learn about how it hooks people in – and then never lets them go.
The director had reportedly previously turned down the opportunity to do an expose on the church, but when approached for this foray into the religion was swayed exponentially by one essential difference. What was different was the involvement of journalist Lawrence Wright and his book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & The Prison of Belief”. Gibney couldn’t put the book down and so started a two-year journey making the doco we are watching tonight.
The documentary highlights the craziness of creator L. Ron Hubbard, the celebrities who made the religion intriguing to the world, and the horrific stories of abuse from former members. But Gibney says for him the entry point was not the sensationalism but rather the people who seek out Scientology to find better lives. It addresses the numerous rumours that have been swirling for years about the church but oddly doesn’t tackle one of the biggest Scientology mysteries - the current location of the wife of creepy Scientology leader, David Miscavige. Some have said she is in hiding and others say she’s dead – either way, the whole situation is damn spooky in my humble opinion. “At the end of the day, rather than doing stone skipping and covering as much as possible in a superficial way we chose to dig in on certain things,” Gibney told Business Insider on why he left the story out of the documentary. Shelley has been missing since 2006, allegedly following an incident where she filled several job vacancies without her husband’s permission. I find the whole situation disturbing as well as fascinating, and would have loved more on the weirdness that is David Miscavige.
But that was my only quibble with this fast-paced, well-made and pretty bloody shocking documentary. To finish, here is a list of some of the church’s most famous members – a few of whom came as somewhat of a surprise…
The former "Cheers" star says the religion helped her overcome a cocaine addiction. Alley says of Scientology: "to me it's so normal, and probably 90 per cent of the crazy stuff I hear isn't true. I've been a Scientologist for over 30 years. I think a lot of things are sensationalized." In 2010, rumours swirled that her weight loss program, Organic Liaison, was a front for the religion.
The “Top of the Lake” and “Mad Men” star was introduced to the religion by her parents. "Some people say yoga really helps them feel centered ... or there's Buddhism or whatever," Moss has told The Telegraph. "I mean, I think that for me it's [Scientology], one thing that has helped me at times, and it's kind of as simple as that."
Prepon is famous for her work in "That '70s Show" and "Orange Is the New Black” and reportedly might be rethinking her role on the popular Netflix series because of Scientology, says Star magazine. Sources say that Prepon's role on the show could be having an impact on the church of Scientology, and on her membership.
The much-loved actor is a long time member and has spoken out against grief given to its most famous face, Tom Cruise. "The thing about Scientology is it is anti-drug in that you're seeking relationship or communication tools — simple basics on how to live better," she told The Daily Beast. "It's a religious philosophy and self-help movement. And you'll never see a truthful word written about it in mainstream media."
The "My Name Is Earl" actor's ex-wife, Carmen Llewellyn, has said that the actor is so obsessed with the religion that it lead to the couple's split. In an interview with the National Enquirer, Llewellyn claimed Lee forced her to join Scientology, too.
Travolta has practiced Scientology since 1975, when he was given one of L. Ron Hubbard's books. He features heavily in tonight’s doco and in 1983 told Rolling Stone: "As a Scientologist I have the technology to handle life's problems and I have used this to help others in life as well."
Cruise is Scientology's most prominent member, and became involved with the church in 1990 through his first wife, Mimi Rogers. "It's a privilege to call yourself a Scientologist, and it's something that you have to earn," Cruise said in 2004. The church reportedly bugged the phone of his first wife, Nicole Kidman, and in 2013, Cruise admitted that ex-wife Katie Holmes divorced him in part to protect the couple's daughter, Suri, from Scientology.