You'd expect Scientologists to be spacey and intense. You might not expect them to
make such a bad movie.
Out There by Mark Bazer
The folks at the Church of Scientology really blew it. They couldn't have asked
for a better person to recruit than me. I am a lonely, girlfriendless,
insecure, boyfriendless, emotionally unstable, clinically depressed,
acne-ridden, small-penised, bed-wetting-prone, physically unattractive pile of
nothing with a bit of a gut going, who styles himself a writer, but always
writes run-on sentences, and repeats words in his sentences. I am also a huge
movie fan. So you can imagine my excitement when I walked out of Newbury Comics
the other day after picking up the new issue of Aquaman and got handed a
free ticket to the film Orientation, playing at the Church of
Scientology. The ticket didn't mention who was in the movie, though I figured
it starred John Travolta, partly because he's a Scientologist, but mostly
because I couldn't think of a movie that's come out lately that he hasn't been
in. Add a potential love interest in Kelly Preston, supporting roles from Tom
Cruise, Anne Archer, and Nicole Kidman, and a funky soundtrack by jazz musician
Chick Corea and Shaft-man Isaac Hayes, and we're talking a virtual
shoo-in for an Oscar.
I know what you're thinking. You're shaking your head and thinking I'm a fool
for even imagining that the Scientology film would be any good. You're sitting
up there on your rational-minded perch, making that old argument: "There's no
way the film can be as good as the book." But when it comes to
Scientology, I am a blank slate -- or, as John Stuart Mill said, a tempus
fugit. And the reviews I'd read of the movie had been astounding. On the
official Scientology Web page, someone going by the initials D.R. wrote, "It's
a very moving film that will mean a great deal to anyone who sees it." Another
critic, B.J.B., also writing on the official Scientology Web page, commented,
"This film really impressed me by showing the broad scope of Scientology." And
Jeffrey Lyons of Sneaking into the Movies said, "It's a smash 'em up,
rip-roaring, nonstop, sizzling adventure for the whole family. The best film
I've seen today!"
So I put aside the negative reports about Scientology I had read. Much of the
media would have you believe that Scientologist leaders brainwash their
followers, that they force helpless saps to hand over all their money to the
Church, and that they drowned a judge's dog in a swimming pool. Being in the
media, though, I know not to believe everything I read (especially if I've
written it). I am also a cat person. So I was willing to give Scientology the
benefit of the doubt and assume that it was no more full of crap than any other
I entered the Church of Scientology on Beacon Street and was greeted kindly by
a woman sitting at a desk. Inside, the church is quite nice, and certainly
cleaner than the Coolidge. I was about 30 minutes early for the 1 p.m. showing,
but the woman told me the film would start immediately. I asked if I had time
to buy popcorn, but she told me they didn't sell it. (Oddly, I spotted a liquid
butter machine in the corner.) She gave me a questionnaire to fill out, asking
me to write down my name, my address, and my mother's credit card number. I was
brought into a small theater with comfy seats. I was alone, save for one young
guy who told me he had seen the film before.
The lights dimmed, the film began, and glorious music came on. "Religion is as
old as man," a narrator said as I stared into the blinding heavens. But "Is
Scientology a religion? Let me assure you it is," spoke a squeaky-clean,
impeccably dressed, plasticky-looking Guy. Only two minutes into
Orientation, and this movie had more in common with a turkey-jerky
infomercial than with a religion. Now, I may be a loser, but I'm not a sucker.
Already this film was too cheesy to bear -- and I liked Phenomenon.
The Guy told us he would be taking us on a tour of a Scientology church and
the people in it. Finally, I thought, it's Travolta time. No such
luck. First stop: the bookstore, where the Guy asked the store manager which
books she could recommend to "these fine people" (me and the other guy in the
theater). "Ron's books are very popular," she replied. "They're going to want
them sooner or later," she said, turning to face the camera. "And they sell out
Our next stop was with the Director of Processing. He's a middle-aged guy who
looks a bit like Richard Nixon and is in charge of the personality-improving
charts. His charts work like this: The gray line low on the chart represents a
person before a 12-hour auditing session. The red line at the top represents a
person after the session. See how simple it is to improve your personality? All
you need is a red marker. The problem remained, though, that the man telling me
about personality improvement was one of those guys who liked to show us his
gums when he smiled. Part of the advantage of being a loser is that I can
recognize other losers. And this man, I can assure you, has never been on a
date. Why would anyone in their right mind look to him to improve their
personality? And where the hell was Travolta?
After a complete tour and a brief conversation with an L. Ron expert ("I
can see that Ron wrote in many different genres -- Western, detective, science
fiction. He also wrote for Hollywood, didn't he?" "Why, yes, he did"), the Guy
laid it on the line. "You stand at the threshold of your next trillion years.
You can either live them in shivering darkness or in the light. The choice is
up to you." Then we met some happy Scientologists. A plumber, a lawyer, an
accountant and . . . an actor. It was Vinnie Barbarino himself. "What
has Scientology helped me with?" Travolta asked, grinning. "A better question
is what it hasn't helped me with." Next up: Kirstie Alley. "Without
Scientology, I can honestly say I would be dead." In other words, we have
Scientology to thank for Veronica's Closet.
As the movie ended with more glorious music, and the lights came on, I still
had no idea what Scientology was. I know that they want us to believe it's a
religion and not a cult. I know that Scientology promises to improve one's
personality and even one's IQ. I know that not every Scientologist is a good
actor. But, um, are the media reports and the tales from ex-Scientologists
untrue? How do these audit sessions really help improve our social skills? And
why did they get someone who had never taken an acting class to host the movie?
For these answers one must delve deeper into Scientology -- and into one's
pocketbook, as a 21-year-old told me in a one-on-one meeting after the movie.
When I told him I'd have to think about whether I wanted to spend the $40 on a
training book, he chuckled, and said, "Well, I think you should do
something, not think about it." Funny, the movie didn't ask me to think much,
either. I may not have a girlfriend, a life, or smooth skin, but I do have a
brain. And I'm not about to let that go . . . unless you've got free passes to
Howie Long's Firestorm.
Mark Bazer is on staff at the Boston Phoenix.