On Tuesday, the good people at Gawker, exercising the generosity of spirit we've come to expect, seized an opportunity to post—and to keep posting, while others feared to tread—a nine-and-a-half-minute video of Tom Cruise discussing his spiritual beliefs. Of course, those beliefs have to do with a religion revealed to the author of Battlefield Earth. If you're anything like me, your experience with the recruiting efforts of Scientologists is limited to scurrying away from clean-cut people in Grand Central Station. They always want to give me a "free stress test," and I always wonder what percentage of people flunk the test because they're stressed out about missing their train.
The video is somewhat more sophisticated than that, with the actor—turtlenecked, seated in a office that would be a fine setting for a campaign ad—discoursing on such topics as exceptionalism ("Being a Scientologist, when you drive past an accident … you know you have to do something about it, because you know you're the only one that can really help.") and what William James would recognize as ecstasy ("It's a blast") for the benefit of the initiated. Gawker calls the clip "The Tom Cruise Indoctrination Video Scientology Tried To Suppress," while its narrator calls it "Tom Cruise on Tom Cruise, Scientologist." By any name, it must be checked out. If you somehow haven't seen it and think you have better things to do with your time, just fast-forward to the final minute, around the spot where Cruise discusses his own intensity ("There's nothing part of the way for me") and then starts cackling in the hearty way familiar from crowd shots of him at the Oscars. I'll wait here for you, formulating questions in all due glibness.
Seems crazy, huh? Further: Doesn't Cruise, with his five o'clock shadow and steady knitting of eyebrows, kind of look like Ethan Hawke? Is that bug—that thingy in the corner of the screen where a peacock might be—the "Freedom Medal of Honor," which Cruise apparently earned by introducing Scientological technology to 1,037,361,277 "people of Earth"? Does it more closely resemble a Chinatown knockoff of a Versace belt buckle or a QVC commemorative coin? Isn't it unnerving how the score, an adaptation of the Mission: Impossible theme, does not peak until the close? Did anybody else take one look at the video's final image of the actor—footage of him prowling a bare stage, suit gleaming in the spotlight—and flash instantly to his performance as self-help proselytizer Frank Mackey in Magnolia? When you drive past a Hollywood train wreck, what can you do to help?
The strangest thing about this video is that it feels only moderately strange. An action hero and an against-the-odds evangelist shine with the same righteousness, and both are pushing redemption. What's more, the narrative line of Cruise's celebrity has been tending in this direction for a while, as has the shared arc of celebrity rubbernecking and media technology. Everyone was due for a blockbuster. According to the video's narrator, whose grand intonations recall a movie-trailer voiceover, "the story of Tom Cruise, Scientologist, has only just begun." Good: There'll be a sequel.