If you haven’t watched the Scientology documentary on HBO yet, here’s a cheat guide to everything. First of all – we knew that scientology was bat shit and we expected so much, but after watching Going Clear, shit is even more cray than we thought.
Directed by Alex Gibney, the documentary explores the darker parts of Scientology, including the prison camps and labor violations of their centers. Most of the documentary is made up of a few interviews with people who have gotten out of the cult, including Paul Haggis and Spanky Taylor, who was John Travolta’s assistant and longtime friend.
The documentary exposes the “church”’s way of luring people in through a pseudo-form of trauma-therapy. Developed by El Ron Hubbard through a science fiction novel, it was then applied to actual people as a way to eradicate mental trauma. Called “auditing,” a senior member of the church hooks you up to an E-meter and then proceeds to ask you questions about your life, including reliving traumatic experiences so as to diminish their importance with every recounting. Sounds a lot like therapy, and we almost understand why people were drawn to the religion in the first place.
But things start to get really weird once you start buying into the church’s teachings. Every level costs more and more money, and only through paying for these cleansing sessions can you advance up the ranks of the church. Oh yeah, and not to mention, the trauma in your body is believed to be tiny alien particles that are possessing you – so your goal as a human is to expel these aliens until you’re left with your true self. No, this isn’t an LSD trip, it’s a religion.
If you’ve ever dispelled a hazing myth to protect Greek life, you know that any responses to the documentary from the Scientologists reek of bullshit. But if we were caught imprisoning children and paying them 40 cents an hour while separating them from their parents, healthcare, and God knows what else, we’d be pretty freaked out too. The scariest thing about all of this is – they think they’re getting away with it… and they kind of are.
As a documentary, it’s honestly a little bit of a snoozefest – there are great first person interviews and bits of haunting footage from church events, but the rest is a lot of stock footage of vaguely related images paired with narration. Obviously it’s a little hard to tell the story of a cult that you’re not a part of – doubly hard is the fact that the IRS recognizes them as a religion and therefore they are protected under federal law. In the documentary, it’s revealed that they owed so much in taxes that they bullied the IRS into granting them church status. We can’t even imagine what kind of threats everyone involved in making this documentary has already received.
According to the documentary, John Travolta and Tom Cruise’s career took off with flying colors as soon as they joined. There’s no mention of Will and Jada, but we have little doubt that they fell in the same boat as well. Otherwise, we can see no logical reason why these successful celebrities would stay in the organization after all these horrible truths are revealed. You may not be able to sell your soul to the devil, but you can sell your soul to Scientology for fame, apparently.
When we heard how easy it was for Travolta to join and get roles – we thought… that doesn’t sound so bad. But then Spanky tells us the story of how she was sent to a prison camp and had to do manual labor with no protective gear for 20 hours a day while pregnant. What was keeping everyone from just walking out? Imagine if someone threatened to make all your texts and gchats public – that’s basically what the church threatened people with to keep their members loyal. With hours and hours of these confidential auditing sessions on tape, they could literally get everyone to hate you quicker than Regina George.
Despite the sort of flat commentary the documentary makes – and we know this is for legal reasons/to protect themselves from lawsuits from the church – it was very creepy and informative and we’re definitely spooked. James Franco doesn’t seem so weird now, all things considered. At least he’s not a Scientologist.