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Literature / Going Clear

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"A civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights, are the aims of Scientology."

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief is a 2013 book by Pulitzer-winning New Yorker journalist Lawrence Wright. The book examines the Church of Scientology, from its inception by L. Ron Hubbard in The '50s to its present leadership under David Miscavige. The book proceeds to condemn Scientology, portraying the organization as an abusive and corrupt micro-dystopia.

This book inspired a much-acclaimed HBO documentary film of the same name by Alex Gibney. Both rely on their often-shocking interviews with ex-Scientologists (including former members of Hubbard and Miscavige's inner circles) who escaped the church's abuses.

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    Both book and film 

Both the book and the film contain examples of:

  • Ambiguously Evil: The book is deliberately ambiguous about whether Hubbard was a cynical con artist drunk on his own power, or a mentally ill man desperately searching for a way to heal himself.
  • The Antichrist: Before Hubbard wrote Dianetics, he lodged with famous physicist Jack Parsons, who was a devoted follower of the hedonistic occult figure Aleister Crowley. Hubbard subsequently became involved in Parsons' plan to breed the Antichrist with Marjorie Cameron, his acolyte and lover, in a bizarre sex magick ritual.
  • Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence: When Hubbard died of a stroke in 1986, the Church of Scientology framed it as discarding his body, which had become an impediment to further research... and they expect him to return at any time.
  • The Atoner: Pretty much nearly every Scientologist that's left looked back on their careers in the church with a whole lotta guilt, especially Mike Rinder (or so it still seems, as 2024 is proving) along with Tom DeVocht.
    Tom DeVocht: It's embarrassing to have ever been involved with [it], you know?
  • Ax-Crazy: Or in Miscavige's case, fist crazy.
    • Hubbard, while slightly less abusive than Miscavige, was infinitely more insane. There's a very legitimate argument to be had that Hubbard was a paranoid schizophrenic, in the utmost clinical sense of the phrase. Wright points out in the book and in the documentary that if Hubbard was a pure fraud, he wouldn't have obsessed over creating new OT levels and investing in auditing research, which Wright theorizes were in fact ways Hubbard worked through his mental illness.
  • Bad Boss: David Miscavige. Deluging everyone with coarse language? Check. Beating up subordinates at the drop of a hat? Check. Keeping people (including children) in virtual prison camps through the RPF? Check. Cramming a hundred church executives into the Hole and watching them tear each other apart for fun? Check. Sending goons to smear and terrorize anyone who criticizes him? Check. Forcing people who have fallen out of favor to cut ties with their families forever? Checkola.
    • While rank-and-file Sea Org members make fifty cents an hour and eat mediocre food (and people in the RPF are only given scraps), this is the daily dinner at Chez Miscavige:
    “Miscavige’s favorite foods include wild mushroom risotto, linguine in white clam sauce, and pate de foie gras. Fresh fruit and vegetables are purchased from local markets or shipped in from overseas. Several times a week, a truck from Santa Monica brings Atlantic salmon, or live lobster, flown in fresh from the East Coast or Canada. Corn-fed lamb arrives from New Zealand… Two full-time chefs work all day preparing these meals, with several full-time stewards to serve them.”
    • Many former Scientologists claim that L. Ron Hubbard was much more benevolent than Miscavige, but Wright points out many instances where Hubbard was just as ruthless, and in some cases influenced Miscavige's behavior.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Marty Rathbun, as he coupled it along with Redemption Rejection in late June 2017 due to him producing new videos attacking every ex-member but notably Tony Ortega (from The Underground Bunker) as well as Leah Remini and Mike Rinder. It's heavily implied that he is back within the church as well as the lawsuit his wife had against Miscavige settled with a possible huge payoff, given his Bitch in Sheep's Clothing tendencies, his sudden denials and proving later on once again that he was Evil All Along.
  • Berserk Button: Hubbard perceived mainstream psychiatry as the ultimate evil (and not for objective reasons, see below) and Scientologists zealously carry on that belief.
  • Big Bad: David Miscavige.
  • Big Brother Is Employing You: Some of Scientology's most recent defectors were once high-ranking executives.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Discussed is Scientology's method of spying on members former and current.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The scale of Scientology's corruption and the fact that it's protected by the First Amendment and IRS tax-exemption can make either the book or the film a pretty depressing sit. But the good news is that Scientology no longer has the ability to instill fear in defectors as it once did and is precipitously losing members.
  • Blackmail: Remember those auditing sessions that are supposed to be Scientology's version of a Catholic confessional, held in strictest confidence? Turns out the church makes members divulge every detail about their private lives, takes notes on the most embarrassing information, and then threatens to release that information if those members leave. It is hinted that Scientology is using John Travolta's Ambiguously Gay reputation against him by threatening to release auditing records if he breaks with the church.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Hubbard's writings reveal he had no problem with the above practice. According to him, blackmail is done to obtain money, and this wasn't about money.
  • Blatant Lies: As explained below, such lies are symptoms of Scientology Double Think.
    • Mike Rinder's breaking point with the church came during his infamous encounter with The BBC's John Sweeney, in which he repeatedly denied abuses to Sweeney's face despite having just been sent out of The Hole and being visibly haggard. He has since gotten better.
    • Scientology sent the ex-wives of Rinder and Tom DeVocht onto Anderson Cooper's show to deny that they were abused in the church, even though Rinder claims they were driven to the studio from The Hole and had been coached by Miscavige (pointing to their shared line that they knew "every inch" of their ex-husbands).
  • Blind Obedience: Celebrities who remain in Scientology despite its myriad problems — especially Tom Cruise — aren't spared criticism for their willful ignorance.
  • The Caligula: Read the first sentence of the second paragraph on the trope page, and you will get a perfect summary of David Miscavige. It says something that he fits the description more to a T than Hubbard, the guy with documented mental problems.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    • How Miscavige, the purported pope of Scientology, interacts with subordinates on a daily basis.
    • Also Jason Beghe, in a much lighter manner, during his interview for the movie.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror:
    • How many Scientologists continue to support the church. By the time they make it to OT III and learn about the Xenu story, they have already devoted so much time and money on Scientology — and the church has gathered enough dirt on them — that they don't question Scientology's practices for fear of reprisal.
    • In Paul Haggis's case, he swallowed the church's propaganda that it was an oppressed minority that was being unfairly harassed by its critics and by the government. It took thirty years for him to listen to any alternative opinions about Scientology.
  • Corrupt Church: The basic thesis about Scientology.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: One of the main beefs former church members have towards Miscavige is how he put less emphasis on expanding Scientology and more on money, either by buying up real estate that isn't used or by releasing excessively revised versions of Hubbard's courses that Scientologists have to pay full price (in the thousands of dollars) to take again despite previously passing them.
  • The Coup: David Miscavige's rise to power. He started out as an auditing prodigy who Hubbard took under his wing. When he was in his twenties, he was appointed as an intermediary between Hubbard (who was living in hiding) and the rest of Scientology. This allowed Miscavige to control any information that reached Hubbard and thereby manipulate him into eliminating his rivals in Scientology management. After Hubbard died, Miscavige used strong-arm tactics and garish punishments to force competing executives out of Scientology and install his own regime.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The obscenely lavish events where Miscavige speaks and the buildings which Scientology buys up, combined with all the rosy language about self-improvement and world-saving and constant Scientology expansion, makes the church look like it can do no wrong. It does. A lot.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: L. Ron Hubbard. At one point he beat his wife for smiling in her sleep because he thought she was dreaming of someone other than him.
  • Cult: Guess.
  • Defector from Decadence: The ex-Scientologists interviewed by Wright and Gibney.
  • Deconstruction: Of L. Ron Hubbard's self-proclaimed role of The Philosopher King.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Go ahead, count all the tropes on this page in which Nineteen Eighty-Four was the Trope Namer or Trope Codifier. Except it's real.
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • Hubbard to Sara Northrup. In addition to his physical violence, Hubbard also at one point had their infant daughter kidnapped and sent to live with a family in Cuba. He then told Northrup that he killed the child, cut her up into small pieces, and dumped them all in the river, and blamed it on her. Then he told her that he'd lied about it (which was true; the child was unharmed). He repeated this cycle several times.
    • David Miscavige has apparently cast his wife into one of Scientology's remote nuclear bunkers, where she has been holed up under guard for about eight years, for the crime of making administrative appointments that Miscavige had been too lazy to get done himself.
    • Tom Cruise expresses paranoia about Nicole Kidman and allows the church to tap her phone and turn his children against her during their custody fight. Then he screams abuse at Nazanin Boniadi for "mistreating" David Miscavige, which only happened because she had a migraine.
  • Double Think: Disturbingly common in the church. Many executives like Mike Rinder who were sent to the Hole and later were questioned by reporters about the church's abuses were able to call their abuse "utter rubbish" with complete conviction despite just having left their torment. In the book, this gets taken up to eleven with the footnotes in which various church or celebrity representatives respond to allegations of sexism, homophobia, and mental and physical abuse with strongly worded messages denying the claims. And the thing is, the more you read the book, the more you realize they actually believe what they're saying while still being totally aware of all the horrible things that go on. Case in point (from the book):
    Tommy Davis, being interviewed by Lawrence Wright: "There probably is no more heretical or more horrific transgression that you could have in the Scientology religion than to alter the technology (i.e., Hubbard's writings)".
    Wright: But hadn't certain derogatory references to homosexuality found in some editions of Hubbard's books been changed after his death?
  • The Dreaded: What Scientology WANTS you to believe it can do with its "Fair Game" policy towards its enemies and critics, though it's more a case of its scare campaign.
  • Driven to Suicide: Hubbard himself almost. He had come to believe that a very powerful body thetan had possessed him and that regular auditing couldn't get rid of it, so he asked one of his followers named Sarge Pfauth to build a machine that would vanquish the thetan and kill himself in the process. The resulting machine only succeeded in giving Hubbard a shock and frying Pfauth's e-meter.
    • Hubbard's long-suffering son Quentin.
  • Evil is Petty: Scientology has turned this trope into an art form.
    • You know Scientology's crusade against psychiatry that is a major part of their public identity? It all started because Hubbard was butthurt over the American Psychiatric Association (rightfully) rejecting Dianetics as pseudoscience and "psychological folk art."
    • Scientology's campaign against the IRS to get tax-exempt status consisted of harassing them with - wait for it - 2,400 lawsuits against the agency, and yes, individual IRS employees. In the documentary, Marty Rathbun details going to IRS events undercover, chatting it up with IRS employees at the bar, and recording their drink orders to use against them in lawsuits.
    • Part of David Miscavige's duties was kicking and spitting on people Hubbard disliked (under orders from the big guy himself).
    • Miscavige's wife Shelly, who once acted as his Dragon, has not been seen in public since 2007 and is reportedly living in isolation at one of the church's nuclear bunkers in California for the crime of going over Miscavige's head to fill administrative vacancies he hadn't dealt with himself.
    • When Nazanin Boniadi (an actress and formerly a Scientologist who was tricked into starting a relationship with Cruise by the church) could not understand Miscavige's ramblings, Cruise blamed her for offending Miscavige and broke off the relationship. When Boniadi confided to a friend that she felt heartbroken, the friend tipped off the church and the church forced Boniadi to clean public restrooms on the RPF. Boniadi has since left the church.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • Do you want an intimate look at Hubbard's sex life and masturbation habits? No? Too bad, because you most certainly will.
    • It's also not going to be fun for ladies to learn that two of the most handsome actors in Hollywood staunchly support a church that forces its female Sea Org members to have abortions and, in Cruise's case, wiretaps exes and treats potential girlfriends like chattel.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Being sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force, sent to "The Hole", or declared a "Suppressive Person" and forced to sever contact with all of your friends and family.
  • For the Evulz:
    • In one of his cruelest mind games, Miscavige organized a game of musical chairs for Scientology executives in which all who lost would be sent to remote outposts and never see their loved ones again. The executives, naturally scared out of their minds, became more desperate as the game went on and began violently fighting each other (some of them tore the chairs apart). When the game was over, Miscavige said no one would be exiled after all.
    • He also takes purportedly confidential information from Tom Cruise's auditing sessions and reads it to his friends, cracking jokes about Tom's sex life.
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: One of the Church's favorite tactics against critics, journalists, and even the IRS, is to bury them under an avalanche of litigation. The objective isn't to win, of course (and generally the cases are without merit) but to bankrupt the other side with legal fees if they don't back down.
  • Fun with Acronyms / Newspeak: Scientology is filled with strange lingo and acronyms. The book makes a very compelling argument that this labyrinthine terminology is a form of thought control. Hubbard himself was influenced by the philosopher Alfred Korzybski, who claimed that "psychosomatic illnesses" could be rectified with semantic training. Of course, the reality is much less benevolent.
  • General Failure: The basic summary of Hubbard's actual military service, especially during his command of a small subchaser stationed on the Oregon coast, in which he dropped 35 depth charges on a bunch of magnetic deposits he mistook for subs against orders from his superiors. And when he was put in command of another boat, he ordered some unauthorized target practice, shelling an island that turned out to belong to Mexico and nearly causing a diplomatic incident. The church, of course, claims he was Captain Freakin' America.
  • Glory Days: Although Scientology achieved their ultimate goal of gaining tax-exempt status, the book points out that the Church’s days of being the cool new philosophy of the rich and famous are long behind it. When they once marketed themselves as a pathway to success, with dozens of celebrity evangelists, nowadays many celebrity Scientologists downplay or hide their affiliation with the Church, while outspoken members like Travolta and Cruise are often mocked for belonging to the crazy Hollywood space cult.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation:
    • This is what Hubbard claimed could happen if a Scientologist read the contents of OT III before he was ready.
    • As Lawrence Wright explains in the film, this actually becomes somewhat of a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Lower ranking Scientologists are taught to reject information from outsiders about their religion's more outlandish beliefs like the Xenu story as lies made up to disparage the church. If and when they reach OT III and find out that these are indeed the actual beliefs of Scientology, many of them do have mental breakdowns after realizing the church has been lying to them.
    • Hana Whitfield fell into a deep depression when it was "revealed" to her that she had the spirits of dead space aliens attached to her body, even though she had been declared clear.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: L. Ron Hubbard.
  • Guilt by Association: The fact that Nicole Kidman's father is a famous Australian psychologist was enough of a rationale for the church to interfere in her marriage and turn Tom Cruise against her.
  • Gullible Lemmings: Averted. Many ex-Scientologists interviewed explain how they only wanted a positive influence in their lives, and they had retained enough free will to eventually realize how Scientology was mistreating people and find ways to escape. Neither the film nor the book look down or condescend to them for buying into Scientology in the first place, because it's frighteningly easy for cults to take advantage of genuinely well-meaning people.
  • Harmful to Minors: Parents are forced to separate from their children when they are made to join the Sea Org and sign the billion year contracts. Sea Org children who fall out of favor then perform slave labor in the Rehabilitation Project Force.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: After publicly splitting from the Church in 2004 and offering counseling services for Ex-Scientologists like himself, as of 2017 Marty Rathbun has appeared in videos criticizing Leah Remini and other former members, which had meant he had fallen back under the church's sway.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Paul Haggis, Jason Beghe and Mike Rinder, very much so. The latter was one of the first big names within the church to leave, while the first two were the first of the biggest names in Hollywood to resign.
  • Heel Realization: In Marty Rathbun's case, the "musical chairs" incident was enough for him to realize what a horrible organization he was supporting and gave him the resolve to leave as soon as he could. Eventually it wasn't enough for him...
  • Hypocrite: Scientology. There are so many examples of Scientology hypocrisy that TV Tropes would need a whole new kind of subpage to list them all.
    • Let's just start with the Hubbard quote at the top of the page and work from there:
      • The book presents a detailed case that despite claiming to build "a world without insanity", the whole of Scientology belief is built on insanity. Hubbard's behavior bore the hallmarks of a paranoid schizophrenic, and Hubbard must have recognized this because he sought psychiatric treatment (which is normally a big Scientology no-no).
      • As for "criminals," Scientology has been accused of wiretapping critics, harassing critics, framing critics for crimes they did not commit, infiltrating government agencies, forcing women to have abortions, forcing children to perform slave labor, holding people against their will, physically abusing members, and we're surprised if you are still reading this.
      • Scientology routinely engages in "war," in the form of the "Fair Game" policy written by Hubbard. The most notorious example was their thousands of vexatious lawsuits against the IRS. Most recently it's been battling ex-members, media personalities, and Wright and Gibney themselves with sleazy and slanderous attack videos and websites.
      • Scientology denies basic human "rights" to its members. Sea Org recruits cannot have kids and live on a pittance that passes for regular pay. Prisoners in the RPF are even worse off. And all members are expected to break off all contact with people who fall out of favor with the church — even children, siblings, and spouses — or else they will be forced out themselves.
      • Scientology does not help its followers "rise to greater heights." If anything, as Hana Whitfield and Jason Beghe can personally attest, it actually causes serious Mind Screw. Rather than help you attain the state of clear, Scientology makes you as crazy as Hubbard himself.
  • Ignored Epiphany:
    • John Travolta was clearly aware on some level about the abuse Spanky Taylor suffered in the Sea Org, but chose not to challenge the church or publicly break with them. Not long after Spanky's escape, Travolta sings "Happy Birthday" for Hubbard at a Scientology function. It is suggested that Scientology uses Blackmail to keep him in line.
    • Paul Haggis stayed in the church for thirty years despite instantly recognizing how utterly insane the Xenu story was. But he later subverted this trope when he left the church over its treatment of gay people, including his two lesbian daughters.
  • Ironic Episode Title: Scientology, in its aims and in its practices, does not "go clear." Instead of improving mental health, Scientology messes up its adherents even worse than before and the organization is so secretive and walled-in that it's closer to a totalitarian microstate than a real church.
  • Ironic Nickname:
    • The Bridge to Total Freedom is designed to make you more and more dependent on Scientology until you are utterly captured.
    • The state of "clear" suggests that all of the neuroses you have purportedly been suffering from have been erased from your mind thanks to Scientology techniques. Except most of the time (which is to say likely all of the time) Scientology techniques actually compound your mental problems.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure:
    • Applied through disconnection. Scientologists are commanded to sever contact with children, siblings, wives, or husbands if they fall out of favor and are declared a Suppressive Person. Basically, whole families are made to suffer if one person gets on Scientology's bad side.
    • At one point, subverted in the case of the Rathbuns. Scientology stalked Monique Rathbun for being married to Marty Rathbun, their former Dragon-turned atoner. Unfortunately for them since Monique was never involved in Scientology herself she had enough leeway to sue Miscavige for the harassment.
      • Due to the newer videos Marty has done attacking every ex-member along with Remini, Rinder and Ortega (who he called the Troika), it's unfortunately invoked that the lawsuit has been dropped and Rathbun himself possibly back within the church's fold, which still continues to this day despite attack pages dedicated to him existing.
  • Just the First Citizen:
    • Despite Miscavige being the supreme leader of the Church, he is usually referred to by and endorses the unassuming title of "COB" (Chairman of the Board). Of course, that might also be an indicator of where his true priorities lie.
    • Averted by Hubbard, whose (usually self given) titles during his life were "Commodore", "Admiral", and finally "Source".
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Hubbard died before he could be held accountable for his fraud and abuse.
    • Scientology and Miscavige, thanks to their exploitation of religious protections and tax-exemption. Though there are hints this won't work for much longer.
  • Kick the Dog: Literally speaking, poisoning a reporter's dog.
  • Knight Templar:
    • Scientologists revert to this mode when they practice the "Fair Game" policy on their critics. The Squirrel Busters' fight against Marty Rathbun practicing Scientology independently for over 200 days is one of its most shockingly infamous examples.
    • Subverted with the organization as a whole. While Scientology claims to be doing what it's doing in order to "clear" the planet, it's really about keeping people in the church and milking as much wealth out of them as they can get.
  • Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Scientology claims it has millions of followers around the world, and their testimonial video for Tom Cruise credits him with recruiting over 1 billion people. But Scientology inflates the numbers to the extreme by counting any regular person who walked into an org or watched one of Cruise's movies or read one of Hubbard's novels as a "Scientologist." What's the real figure? Scientology has about 30,000 members. And shrinking. Scientology also claims to be in the midst of a period of great expansion, pointing to grand openings or re-openings of their orgs in major cities every year. What Miscavige doesn't mention is that those buildings, when not unfinished or in disrepair, are hardly ever used.
  • Made a Slave: Sea Org members work long hours and have only one holiday, and they are paid forty cents an hour at most. It gets even worse if they are sent to the church's RPF prison camps, where they aren't paid jack, live in inhumane conditions, eat scraps, and are treated by other Scientologists as if they don't exist.
  • Make an Example of Them: The oldest and most well-known example of Scientology's punishments is "overboarding," which started when Scientology was run out of Hubbard's ship, the Apollo. Sea Org members who were "out-ethics" were thrown overboard when the ship was at port. After Scientology returned to land, overboarding either entailed standing in a bucket of water or, after Gold Base was established, being forced to jump into a heavily polluted lake.
  • Mama Bear:
    • With a side of badass for Spanky Taylor. She managed to rescue her baby from criminal neglect in the Cadet Org and arrange an escape with a non-Scientologist friend, right under the noses of the cult's security apparatus.
    • Marty Rathbun's wife Monique mentions in the documentary that when she and her husband were getting stalked by Church members she started carrying a Louisville slugger with her to protect their recently born son.
    • Sara Goldberg, a Scientologist who had climbed the entire Bridge to OT VIII, chose to leave Scientology rather than disconnect from her son. Unfortunately, this meant her daughter was forced to cut all contact with her in kind.
  • Mind Rape: Miscavige's psychological torture of the captive executives, especially with the musical chairs incident, could be considered a form of this.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Miscavige's torture in the Hole caused Marty Rathbun, Mike Rinder, and Tom DeVocht to turn against the church all despite having been long-time, loyal, high-ranking Sea Org members.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Haggis' attitude towards his career in Scientology after he learned about the allegations against the church re: its abuse of Sea Org members and his own lesbian daughters.
    • Initially it WAS how Rathbun did feel about his involvement, brought to the fore after the "musical chairs" incident, but ultimately played straight with Mike Rinder, as Scientology and the Aftermath has shown time and again with him.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor:
    • We learn that not only did Tom Cruise allow the church to turn his children against Nicole Kidman, but he also conspired with Miscavige to have Kidman's phone bugged. He also benefits from the church's abuses by letting Sea Org members customize his vehicles and living quarters for a pittance. And then there's how he treated Nazanin Boniadi...
    • John Travolta turned a blind eye to Spanky Taylor's torment in the Sea Org and the neglect her baby suffered in the PAC Base nursery. And Travolta has continued the fine tradition by refusing to watch the ''Going Clear'' movie.
    • Less literally with David Miscavige. We see him addressing Scientology functions, dressed in tuxedos or sharp suits, with a demeanor that is cool and collected. When we hear how he tormented his staff, the person they described sounds less like a person and more like a rabid attack dog.
    • The book opens with Paul Haggis' indoctrination into Scientology and how L. Ron Hubbard's humorous, self-deprecating manner endeared him to the church. The following section about Hubbard's life strips that veneer.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Averted.
  • Papa Bear: A big reason Paul Haggis left was to stop the mistreatment of his gay daughters by the church, which followed Hubbard's homophobic policies.
  • The Philosopher King: Deconstructed. While Scientology speaks of L. Ron Hubbard in the utmost hagiographic terms (which Scientologists are expected believe unconditionally), Wright and Gibney delve into Hubbard's military service, his personal relationships, his methods of control, and his psychological history. What they find is someone who was in no way a "philosophical" or rational mind.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: There is a compelling case that Hubbard took parts of Aleister Crowley's belief system, gave it a sci-fi makeover, and repackaged it as Dianetics and Scientology. There's also a hefty amount of Scientologist belief that's quite similar to Freudian Psychology.
  • Pointless Civic Project: Scientology has made a big show of buying new buildings and renovating old ones, and hails the new "orgs" as proof that Scientology is expanding while purportedly fulfilling its legal obligation to spend money on charitable projects. The truth is, most of the buildings are never used and the church hoards the money donated by Scientologists for those projects.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: David Miscavige is a virulent homophobe and misogynist, and it's implied that he's using the sexual orientations of certain Scientology celebrities against them to keep them in the church. Although his behavior was commonplace for his day, L. Ron Hubbard was a casual misogynist, claimed Dianetics could "cure" homosexuality, and regularly made disparaging comments about non-white races, East Asians in particular. In fact, the Scientology word for outsider is "wog", which is a racial slur referring to people of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent. All of these attitudes are, of course, adopted by Scientology as a whole since it's a Cult of Personality, among many other things.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Scientology believes that all psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoactive prescription drugs are part of a vast evil conspiracy. Funny that their auditing of damaging memories sounds very Freudian.
  • Religion of Evil: Hearing the details about how the Scientology "religion" was invented out of whole cloth, and about the abuses that continue to be carried out in its name, inevitably leaves this impression.
  • Room 101: The Hole.
  • Sadistic Choice: Under the "disconnection" policy, Sara Goldberg was forced to either stay in the church and sever contact with her son, or leave the church and sever contact with her daughter. She chose the latter.
  • Scare Campaign: Scientology's default tactic with critics, following the Fair Game policy.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • The film is mostly composed of interviews with Scientologists who couldn't stand it anymore and left. To name just a few: Hana Whitfield (original Sea Org member), Marty Rathbun (former Dragon to David Miscavige), Mike Rinder (former church spokesman), Spanky Taylor (John Travolta's former handler), Jason Beghe (actor who defected to Anonymous), Paul Haggis (director who left because he has two lesbian daughters and he found out about the church's homophobia), and on and on.
    • It is also pointed out that Scientology has far fewer members than it claims and is the fastest-shrinking religion.
  • Secret Test of Character: Paul Haggis thought that the Operating Thetan III documents were one of these. He had also thought the whole Xenu story was so preposterous that it was a trap and that anybody who actually believed it would be kicked out for being too gullible.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Lower-ranking members of Scientology are taught that if they look up certain core church doctrines (aka the Xenu story) before they're ready, they'll Go Mad from the Revelation, and that they should not listen to any outsiders who purport to have the real story because of this and because those outsiders are supposedly crazy and or lying about the beliefs. If and when Scientologists do reach a level at which they can learn the story, they find out that these "lies" were true all along, and the ensuing realization that the organization they've invested so much time and resources into has been lying to and gaslighting them leads many of them to actually have mental breakdowns or go crazy.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Right out of Hubbard's "Fair Game" playbook. Scientology routinely uses OSA agents and private investigators to stalk and harass critics and former members, such as the Rathbuns vs. the Squirrel Busters. Sometimes they will even sent private eyes to loved ones who are not involved with Scientology controversies in any way, as they did to Tony Ortega's mother... and then there's what they had TRIED to do to Paulette Cooper...
  • Space Opera: The Xenu story is inevitably revisited. The film presents a trippy summary of Operating Thetan Level III.
  • State Sec: The Guardian's Office (responsible for Operation Snow White, which is still the largest-scale infiltration of the U.S. government ever) and its successor organization, the Office of Special Affairs.
  • Stepford Smiler:
    • It is posited that even Scientologists who stay in the fold are covering up emotional problems similar to what ex-Scientologists suffer from. Jason Beghe has such an interpretation of the infamous Tom Cruise YouTube video.
    Jason Beghe: All Scientologists are full of shit. You know, they lie. 'Oh, I'm doing great, you gotta get on VII!' You know? And they're fucking, 'I gotta fucking migraine right now, and I've never felt so shitty!' You know, that's the fucking life."
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: As Lawrence Wright himself put it, to journey through Scientology is to journey through the mind of L. Ron Hubbard and the deeper you get into Scientology, the more like Hubbard you become.
  • 2 + Torture = 5: Some of the execs detained in the Hole were put through their torture until they made outlandish confessions, such as being in homosexual relationships with each other.
  • Unperson:
    • If you're declared a "Suppressive Person" by the church, your family members and friends in the religion are ordered to cut off all contact with you. If they don't comply, they themselves are labelled Suppressive Persons (although it's pointed out that sometimes Scientology's celebrity members are given immunity from this).
    • Sara Northrup, who was married to Hubbard when he wrote Dianetics, has been erased in official church biographies.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Scientology's celebrity endorsements (especially with Tom Cruise and John Travolta) are analyzed.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Do you really want us to revisit Spanky Taylor and the urine-soaked crib?
    • Scientology also makes children join the Sea Org and sign the billion year contract, which entails the same forced labor as adult members.
  • You Have Failed Me: According to DeVocht, Miscavige believes that everyone else (including most Scientologists) are out to sabotage him and he is the only person who is bothering to do anything right, hence the constant beatings of his subordinates.

    The Book 

The book contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Hubbard constantly belittled his son Quentin even though he was a high-classed auditor, and sentenced him to serve in the Rehabilitation Project Force. It didn't help that Quention was gay even though Scientology doctrine regards homosexuality as a perversion. Eventually Quentin was Driven to Suicide. When he was informed of his son's death, Hubbard barked, "That little shit has done it to me again!"
  • Enfant Terrible: Miscavige had a habit of beating up his parents and sister when he had asthma attacks. His family was under the impression that this was because he simply didn't want to be touched, but the book hints Miscavige did this for yuks.
  • She Is the King: Following naval tradition, female "officers" in the Sea Org are referred to as "sir." Which is hardly the strangest thing going on in there.
  • The Starscream: In the early 1980s, David Miscavige was appointed as a middleman of sorts between the isolated Hubbard and the rest of Scientology. This allowed him to control any information that reached Hubbard, thereby manipulating him into casting out Miscavige's rivals and consolidating his own power within the church.

    The Film 

The film contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Horrifying as the film is, given its running time it can only scratch the surface of Wright's book.
  • Artistic License – Geography: OT III claims that Xenu used volcanoes on Earth (or Teegeeack) to kill his alien subjects 75 million years ago. Hana Whitfield points out that the specific volcanoes Hubbard mentions did not exist at that time.
  • AcCENT upon the Wrong SylLABle: Hubbard does this a few time in the narration of the Xenu footage, calling him the galactic ruLAHR, and that the thetans watched motion picCHARE screens. It's actually a bit unnerving.
  • Buffy Speak: As he struggles to summarize OT III, Paul Haggis refers to Xenu as "this space guy."
  • Faux Affably Evil: Miscavige, in his archival interviews and choreographed speeches, just gives off this vibe even before you learn about the abuse.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: L. Ron Hubbard's teeth.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Since we're talking about a 300-page book being made into a two hour movie intended for television, a lot of stuff is left out. Since it has limited time to delve into the details of how Scientology was developed, how deep Hubbard's mental problems went, and what tactics Miscavige used to seize control of the church, most of the film's emphasis is on the hellish experiences that ex-Scientologists went through when they were in the church.
  • Precision F-Strike: Haggis' reaction to Operating Thetan Level III:
    "What... the fuck are you talking about?!"
  • Putting on the Reich: Rathbun lampshades the "Nazi symbolism" in Scientology's 1993 "The War is Over" rally in Los Angeles. Pseudo-fascist iconography is found throughout Scientology, especially in the Sea Org. In fact, this trope is among the reasons of Germany's negative reception towards Scientology.
  • Red Right Hand: L. Ron Hubbard looks like a fairly normal middle-aged man, until you see his teeth.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: You will never listen to "Bohemian Rhapsody" the same way again.
  • Stock Footage: Par for the course in an Alex Gibney movie. Used to disquieting effect during the Xenu scene.
  • That Man Is Dead: An interesting example comes from Marty Rathbun, who is constantly confronted with his bad acts as a Scientology Dragon and keeps "dying deaths" as he tries to resolve the guilt... which unfortunately wasn't enough.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Implied by Marty Rathbun.
    "The 'We Stand Tall' thing, this again was part of this whole IRS thing, and Miscavige had had this song composed by the musician group they had up at the studio, trying to turn this into 'this was the result of the power of this movement'. Which was such bullshit because it was all about control. When he got absolute control, he went absolutely bonkers."
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: Not in the film itself, but most of the initial news coverage about the film focused on the allegations that Scientology broke up Tom Cruise's marriage to Nicole Kidman — not the parts where Scientology broke up entire families on an industrial scale, employed literal slave labour, flat-out abused its members, etc.