IN THE documentary My Scientology Movie (Cert. 15), the presenter, Louis Theroux, tries very hard to secure the co-operation of that religion. This sharply contrasts with Alex Gibney’s approach in Going Clear (Arts, 3 July), who wouldn’t meet any current members, fearing an ambush.
With John Dower, his director and co-writer, Theroux engages actors to replicate dialogue either in the public domain or what former Scientologists have reported. The consequences were attempts to hack Theroux’s emails, being tailed by private detectives, and receiving threats from Scientology lawyers. This is a pity, because Theroux “remained open to Scientology’s good points and tried to see it for what it is: a system of belief that is not so different from other religions, capable of enlarging the soul as well as crushing the spirit; a tool for wickedness but also of kindness and self-sacrifice.”
Far from gratitude to the seemingly disingenuous Theroux, it transpires that he has become the subject of a movie made by the Church. The same thing happened to Gibney. Scientology has never been averse to embracing the movie business. Its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, wanted to be a Hollywood director. Several luminaries (including Tom Cruise and John Travolta) have been recruited to its ranks.
It is relatively easy to dismiss Scientology as neither Christian nor scientific. It uses a dubious method called “auditing”, which involves employing a rather primitive lie detector to deliver members from so-called past lives and memories. The closer anyone attains Scientology’s ultimate peak, the more perilous it gets for people. Accounts by some of those admitted to the inner sanctum include beatings and harassment.
The film makes it clear how difficult it is for those who wish to escape. By that stage, their whole being is wrapped up with the Church. If they leave, they are losing all their friends, sometimes relatives, and general security. A former church member of 35 years’ standing describes the experiences of those rejoining mainstream society: “It’s a foreign world that they have to go out and somehow cope with alone . . . because in essence, it’s a kind of a suicide.”
Once back in the outside world, their lives can be made a misery by “squirreling”; the name given to the way Scientology relentlessly pursues defectors. While the religion’s methods of processing current members can be harsh — verbal abuse, licking the floor, and incarceration behind barred windows are all depicted in the film — Theroux gently reminds us that it may be that every religion carries within it the DNA for its own distinct crimes.