Scientology Doc 'Going Clear' Documents Church Abuse, Details Cruise-Kidman Split


A group of former Church of Scientology members received a standing ovation Sunday afternoon when they took the stage at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah following the premiere of Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, a controversial new documentary about the Church.

Drawing largely from the 2013 book of the same name by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright, Going Clear documents several crimes allegedly committed by the Church, including physical abuse by its current leader, David Miscavige. Former Church members also appear on-camera to detail several instances in which they were threatened, harassed, or separated from their families by the institution.

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"For a film like this to get made, people have to come forward," director Alex Gibney told the packed crowd during a post-screening Q&A.

Among the movie’s revelations is that, though the Church’s membership is currently under 50,000 members, recent tax reports list its assets as totaling more than a billion dollars, much of it from real estate. It also claims that the Church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, physically abused his first wife, and at one point threatened to kill her.

One of the film’s focal points is Tom Cruise, the Church’s most high-profile member. In archival clips — including footage from a lavish birthday party thrown for Cruise by the Church in the early ’00s — the actor is portrayed as a close friend of Miscavige, whom one former Church member says committed several acts of physical abuse. The film essentially calls on Cruise — whom Gibney and Wright claim has personally benefitted from the Church’s cheaply paid labor force — to renounce the Church and Miscavige and help end the abuse.

The movie also features testimony from an ex-Scientologist who says he wire-tapped Nicole Kidman’s phone at the actor’s request, and that the Church deliberately wanted to separate him from his former wife, claiming she was a “suppressive person” because she refused to cut ties with her late father, a famed psychologist.

Cruise, Kidman, and Miscavige all refused to comment to the filmmakers. The Church of Scientology has been actively rebutting the film, sending a statement to Yahoo Movies saying, “The accusations made in the film are entirely false and alleged without ever asking the Church.” The statement also directed readers to their longer response on the online magazine Freedom.

Among the other big name Scientologists who declined to speak to Gibney is John Travolta, a life-long Church member. According to the film, Travolta’s faith to the Church has wavered over the years, but he doesn’t want to leave, for fear of his personal life being exposed by the Church.

One of Travolta’s former Church handlers, Spanky Taylor — who worked closely with the actor during his early career — also appeared in the film. She recounts how she was punished by the Church by being forced to do menial labor while pregnant, and was later separated from her ten-month-old child, only to later find the child in a “urine-soaked crib” surrounded by fruit flies. 

Taylor and her daughter, Vanessa — whom Gibney described as “the stolen baby” — were among the on-stage guests following the film. “I, particularly, was really young [when I joined the Church],” Taylor told the crowd, explaining why she stayed in the Church for so long. “[I] had never read a book. And almost literally grew up thinking L. Ron Hubbard invented the wheel…you’re so slowly indoctrinated, and not questioning anything because [Hubbard] has the answers, and he establishes such credibility to you. So you continue to believe the nonsense.”

One of the most emotional testimonies comes from a life-long Church member whose decision to leave the Church, she says, has resulted in her being cut off from her family, including her 7-year-old granddaughter. ”I’m just concentrating on smelling her hair,” she says in the film.

HBO will air Going Clear later this year.