The man in the blue suit looks directly into the camera and intones, “You don’t have to study Dianetics after this film ends, you are free to leave the room and continue your life just as before. It would be stupid, but you are free to do it just as you are free to jump off a bridge or blow your brains out with a gun.” And despite this singular warning, resuming my Dianetics-free life is exactly what I did.
Not to say that the 20-some minutes that preceded it weren’t a wildly entertaining introduction to Scientology. Although it lingered a tad long on the ups and downs surrounding their battles with the IRS for my taste, the film compellingly evoked the spirit of a Videodrome-era David Cronenberg. My one caveat was that although it proudly trumpeted the Church’s recognition as a “real” religion, it never exactly addressed the issue of what Scientoligists believe in or what they do other than take dubious personality tests and buy the literally 100’s of books that help guide their progress through their mysterious “Org.”
The “Org”, as it happens, is short for Organization, a factoid helpfully explained by the glossary I was given before the movie began. The laminated 11 x 17 document resembled nothing so much as a Denny’s kids meal placemat, one side adorned by the Scientology logo (suspended in outer space, if memory serves me correctly) the other with definitions for tricky words that would appear in the film. I was thrilled! I hadn’t seen a movie that came with it’s own glossary since David Lynch’s Dune and what little I knew about Scientology didn’t seem a world away from Dune’s interplanetary blue eyed, worm riding, hallucinating desert warriors. “Flying Colors”, the glossary pointed out means “In triumph” from the ancient custom of warships proudly displaying their flags when returning form battle. It further clarified by using the phrase in a sentence, “Scientology won it’s legal battles with the IRS with Flying Colors.”
After being given sufficient time to study the jargon, the lights dimmed and I found myself speeding through a passable computer generated asteroid belt towards the Earth and ultimately into the vestibule of a Scientology center where a handsome well-coiffed spokesperson (picture the Simpsons’ Troy McClure crossed with Real TV’s John Davidson) takes us on a whirlwind tour of the Org. We first stop and chat with the curator of the L Ron Hubbard Museum about the amazingly multifaceted founder of the Church. Apparently he was a writer (in many genres BESIDES science fiction potboilers), movie director, sailor, enemy of state sponsored mind-contol (no snickering), Eagle scout, and world explorer among many others.
Next, we pop into a Scientology bookstore (“this might take a minute, all the salespeople are busy because the books are so popular)! The clerk, dressed as an interdimensional stewardess, helpfully suggests 8 books we might want to buy as an introduction to Dianetics but strongly suggests that soon enough we’ll need them all. Despite the obvious evidence that this film was created in the last decade (3D computer asteroids and a cameo by a puffy, post-Pulp Fiction John Travolta) the film in general and this scene in particular plays out as stiffly as a 1950’s classroom hygiene movie.
Clerk: Hello, can I help you? ^ Host: These good people would like to know more about Scientology. ^ He points and she turns, smiles, and warmly addresses the camera. ^ Clerk: Oh, hello there! Come with me.
Soon follows a similar encounter with the Chief Scientologist in Charge of Personality tests (his real honorific was much more impressive, but it escapes me for now) who teases us with the briefest explanation of the auditing process. The auditee answers questions while holding on to a pair of tin cans wired up to a stylishly rounded plastic device as the Auditor records the answers while watching spinning dials on the reverse side that are hidden from view of the subject, much like Milton Bradley’s Battleship. After being tempted with results (10 points of IQ increase in just 12 hours)! They bring out the big guns: testimonials. A dozen satisfied customers, only identified by their occupations (Auto Racing Trainer, Homemaker, Businessman] tell us how Scientology proactively empowered them in an impactful way. These included a handful of celebrity Scientoligists modestly identified only as “Actor” or “Musician”, the best of the lot being Kirstie Alley whose blunt “Without Scientology I’d be dead” is either the films most inspiring, tragic, or comic moment – depending on your point of view. Do Isaac Hayes or Tom Cruise appear? See the film. Did I mention it’s free? Just like the personality test.