By Clark Collis
Updated January 18, 2013 at 05:00 AM EST

Going Clear

  • Book

Why would the smart and talented writer-director Paul Haggis (Crash) spend 34 years following a religion founded by a pulp sci-fi author whose extraterrestrial-featuring mythology would, to the nonbeliever, appear to redefine the concept of “cockamamie”? That is the question raised — and mostly answered — in Going Clear, which interweaves the story of Haggis’ decades in the Church of Scientology with a history of the faith and its late architect, L. Ron Hubbard.

Lawrence Wright, who won a Pulitzer for 2006’s The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, interviewed roughly 200 current and former Scientologists for the book, which began as a 2011 New Yorkerarticle written with Haggis’ cooperation. You can feel the heft of the research as he details Hubbard’s establishment of the church in the ’50s, its globe-spanning infiltration of government agencies in the ’70s, and the more recent alleged physical abuse suffered by some members (the Church of Scientology denies many of the claims made in Going Clear, as Wright notes).

That Haggis didn’t break from the church until 2009 was in large part due to the cosseted position celebrity Scientologists occupy in the organization’s hierarchy. Going Clear is peppered with examples of the church lavishly accommodating its A-list members, particularly Tom Cruise, if not always dealing so well with its famous congregants’ quips. (Wright claims Haggis was once castigated for jokingly informing Steven Spielberg that the church kept its “evil” members hidden away; Spielberg’s publicist says the director does not recall the conversation.) And if the reader is left with the feeling that 30-plus years still seems like an awfully long time for someone to wake up and smell the ecclesiastical coffee, then at least it is one Haggis shares. “I was in a cult for 34 years,” the filmmaker says. “Everyone else could see it. I don’t know why I couldn’t.” B+

Memorable Anecdote:

At a dinner party, Travolta tried to heal a cut on Brando’s leg with just his touch: “After 10 minutes, Brando opened his eyes and said, ‘That really helped. I actually feel different!'”

Episode Recaps

Going Clear

  • Book
  • Lawrence Wright
  • Knopf