P.T. Anderson couldn't be happier at all the free publicity his prestige flick is getting

Scientology's Summer of Pain: Why it Makes 'The Master' Smile

on September 13, 2012 by Inkoo Kang


Scientology.jpgSomewhere in Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein is sending the world's glitziest gift basket to Katie Holmes. The actress's very abrupt, very public divorce from her famous Scientologist husband was not only this summer's most scandalous gossip item (sorry, Robsten), but also the biggest blow to the Church, already smarting from a summer of pain. Scientology has never enjoyed great mainstream press, but the religious org took hit after hit these past few months, all of which shaped into a kind of stealth marketing campaign for The Master (read our review here). Directed by P.T. Anderson (There Will Be Blood), The Master looks at how a young, troubled WWII veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) falls under the spell of a L. Ron Hubbard-like charlatan (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who promises all manner of cure-alls. To take advantage of the free press The Master dropped into its lap, the Weinsteins moved up the film's release date by a month, from October 12th to September 14th. Let's revisit this long summer of anti-Scientology, and how certain events heightened anticipation for the film.  

Late May — Lisa Marie Presley defects. Scientology's summer from hell began early with the biggest celebrity defection since writer-director Paul Haggis's acrimonious departure. Elvis' 44-year-old daughter, who forged her own way into the spotlight with quickie marriages to Michael Jackson and Nicolas Cage, severed her ties to the Church and accused the org of "taking my soul, my money, my everything.” She also featured a song called "So Long" in her new album, Storm and Grace, denouncing the Church for its financial corruption and spiritual bankruptcy. The Master visits Scientology in its early, pre-celebrity recruitment days, but it'll be interesting to get an inside look on the grueling "auditing" process that its adherents/dupes endure—the results of which will undoubtedly "leak" to the press if Presley dares to be more forthcoming about her experience with the Church. 

Late May/Early June — John Travolta in Masseur-Gate. On the heels of Presley's apostasy came a slew of allegations by seven(!) male masseuses that Travolta harassed and sexually abused them. Just a week later, an old flame of Travolta's came out of the woodwork to declare he'd had a six-year relationship with the actor in the 1980s. Travolta is hardly the only closeted star in Hollywood, but he is the second-most famous member of a homophobic cult that claims the spa-loving actor can will himself into a heterosexual as easily as Tom Cruise can fly (seriously). It's not clear to what extent The Master will deal with Scientology's anti-gay stance—was Hubbard simply a product of his time, or would he still believe that homosexuality is a moral and physical deficiency to overcome?—but let's hope The Master has the courage to tackle that issue. 

Late June — Katie Holmes flees Tom Cruise. In an unexpected but totally understandable move, Tom Cruise's young bride filed for divorce after nearly six years of zombied bliss. The split was reportedly fueled by Holmes' desire to keep their six-year-old daughter Suri from the clutches of Scientology, which could have forced the little girl to do anything between attending a Scientology school for 12 years to pledging a billion years of service to the Church. More than anything, it was the secretive abruptness with which Holmes parted ways with her husband that renewed the public's suspicion of Cruise's religious organization, and let her off the hook in the eyes of moviegoers for marrying up for her career's sake. The easy good-versus-evil, female-in-peril versus crazed-powerful-man narrative that the Holmes/Cruise divorce exploited reminded everyone that Scientology is still out there doing weird, probably dastardly things, and made us all wonder what else goes on behind those closed doors. 

Mid July — Woman dies at Scientology treatment center. The death of 20-year-old Stacy Dawn Murphy at a Scientologist-run drug rehab center in Oklahoma is unfortunately the least publicized of these stories, for it cuts straight into the heart of the Church's raison d'être: its professed ability to cure. Sadly, Murphy's death was the third in less than a year at the facility, one of several dozen Scientology treatment centers around the world. It may be a bit ghoulish to look at a young woman's death by medical negligence as (inadvertent) marketing for the film, but it's hard not to see the parallels between Murphy and Phoenix's woeful, vulnerable character. And despite its fictional nature, the movie will certainly act as a kind of "exposé" on Scientology-style medicine, which includes "hours-long staring drills and talking to inanimate objects."

Early September — Tom Cruise's wife auditions confirmed. Vanity Fair said goodbye to ever working with Tom Cruise again when it published the story behind one of Tom Cruise's would-be arranged marriages. The leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, and his wife apparently chose a then-24-year-old Iranian-British actress named Nazanin Boniadi to wed Cruise. They broke up Boniadi's relationship with her boyfriend, then made her scrub toilets with a toothbrush, do hard manual labor in the desert, and watch clips of Cruise being feted by Scientologists for months on end when she proved inadequate as a match for the megastar. It's exactly these kinds of crazy details that The Master, which largely takes place on a ship, where the social isolation and endless stretches of shimmering sea tend to create altered realities among even the most balanced people, will reward its viewers with. So while the crisis management team at Scientology Headquarters work over-time to spin this summer's events, feel free to climb aboard the U.S.S. Master and shudder to your heart's content. 

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Tags: The Master, P.T. Anderson, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Elvis Presley, Nicolas Cage, Lisa Marie Presley, Michael Jackson

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