W. DEREK RUSSELL: The literal thinking of a child

W. DEREK RUSSELL

Great news for fans of Tom Cruise last week. Not only was there the reveal of the title and trailer for the upcoming fifth installment in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, “Rogue Nation,” we also got a captivating look at the world of Scientology via HBO’s “Going Clear” documentary.

The film is a compelling, in-depth look at the lives of eight former members of the “church,” from top ranking officials within the organization down to regular members, including John Travolta’s personal liaison to the congregation.

The film could have been the plot of a “Mission: Impossible” film in and of itself.

Don’t believe me? Too bad, because here we go. We open in Morocco. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character is rock climbing on a volcano. I’m fairly certain there are no volcanoes in Morocco but considering we are talking about Scientology, I feel I’m allowed to bend the rules a little. A drone flies into the frame and hovers near Hunt as he reaches the top of the volcano.

A voice comes out of the drone, “Good Morning, Mr. Hunt. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves ascension to the level ‘clear.’ You may select any three team members of your choosing, but as always, should any member of your IMF team be caught or killed, the Church of Scientology will disavow all knowledge of your actions. Rendezvous at headquarters in Riverside County, California in 48 hours. May L. Ron Hubbard be with you. This message will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Ethan.”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the beliefs of Dyanetics or Scientology, a lot of those references probably fell flat. Honestly, I didn’t know much about the so-called religion until watching the HBO documentary this week. I’ve heard lots of different bits of information for years, but to hear the full history of the organization was fascinating. You’ve no doubt heard of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the belief. He led followers to believing that he could heal painful memories through the use of an e-meter, and a person he called an auditor. The higher level you achieve in the organization, the more information about it you gain. Sort of like beating levels in a Nintendo game. Once you get through these OT levels, as they call them, you reach a level called “clear,” where all your bad memories are healed. But then you learn of the “truth” behind Scientology, about the alien god Xenu who brought people to Earth 75 million years ago and killed them with volcanoes.

Did I mention to reach the higher levels of OT, you have to donate insane amounts of money to the church to keep going up? So, now it’s less like a Nintendo game and more like Candy Crush. I kind of feel like the whole paying-money-to-ascend-higher plot point is an important one. Oh, I’m sorry, “donating” money, lest we forget that the organization is recognized as a non-profit religious group, and therefore doesn’t pay taxes. The sheer irony of nailing Scientology for tax evasion would be like taking down James Everett Dutschke for opening other people’s mail.

Between learning more about the cult or seeing the new M:I film, I think I’ll watch the old episodes of the TV show. Peter Graves wouldn’t have put up with this.

W. Derek Russell writes about arts and entertainment. Contact him at derek.russell@journalinc.com.

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