Katie Holmes appears to be well on her way to achieving a Mission: Impossible of her own: extracting herself and her daughter, Suri, from the clutches of Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology. Less than two weeks after the actress filed for divorce, the estranged couple has settled the divorce proceedings and released a laboriously worded joint statement on Monday:
We are committed to working together as parents to accomplish what is in our daughter Suri's best interests, the statement reads. We want to keep matters affecting our family private and express our respect for each other's commitment to each of our respective beliefs and support each other's roles as parents.
The former Dawson's Creek star has made a dramatic about-face from the starry-eyed, presumably brainwashed child bride of Hollywood's most famous, and nuttiest, leading man. Since filing papers in New York City last Thursday, Holmes has cleaned house -- and moved to a new one. She abruptly fired her Scientology-approved security detail and the publicist she has worked with since her 2006 marriage. She and Suri moved out of the Greenwich Village apartment they once shared with Cruise, and the actress has reportedly changed her phone number. No stranger to the glare of the paparazzi's lens, Holmes has been photographed out and about in New York City, cheerfully posing as the ever-doting mom and showing off her ring-free finger and newfound freedom to wear high heels.
If the numerous accounts in celeb glossies are to be believed, Cruise was the only one surprised by his wife's filing: The actor was reportedly blindsided by her abrupt exit despite reports that he had been previously told about the Chelsea apartment Holmes had supposedly rented in secret. Cruise was on location in Iceland when Holmes filed the court papers and is said to have begged her to visit him there in a desperate attempt at reconciliation. But Holmes was unmoved, despite the fact that her estranged husband celebrated a milestone 50th birthday last week.
Like Cruise's decade-long marriage to Nicole Kidman, his union with Holmes was plagued by outside scrutiny and skepticism. The actor has never been able to quiet rumors that both relationships were business arrangements -- elaborate, high-ticket ruses to cover up Cruise's rumored sexual preference for men, orchestrated by the sinister and powerful Church of Scientology, which counts the actor among its highest-ranking members.
Cruise's zealous attachment to Scientology and his presumed intention to bring Suri into the cult-like organization has been blamed for the split. Indeed, it is very easy to believe that a mother would want to shield her young child from a religion that has long been accused of abusing its members. But it is more difficult to reconcile the accusations that TomKat was merely a contractual agreement with the way the split has played out so far -- with Cruise convincingly playing the role of the jilted husband and Holmes the long-suffering wife who can't get further away from him fast enough.
On the other hand, the hasty settlement is more suggestive of a premeditated ending than a knock-down, drag-out fight would have been -- a fight that would likely have thrust the Church of Scientology even further into the spotlight. Indeed, the reputation of the church is far more at risk with TomKat in the headlines -- which has so far prompted numerous former Scientologists to go public with their sordid stories. But even if the Scientologists helped expedite the settlement, does that mean the marriage itself was a wholesale sham orchestrated by and for the church?
More likely, it seems that Holmes did, for a time, come under the spell of her childhood crush: Caught up in a whirlwind romance, the young innocent could have underestimated the vice-like hold that Scientology had on her husband and what might be in store for their future offspring -- if she considered it at all. A 2006 interview the actress gave to W Magazine, which was attended by a Scientology chaperone, more than suggests that Holmes was wearing heavy blinders at the time. It's impossible, even for a moment, to slip under the halo of cartoon hearts dancing around Holmes' head, the reporter wrote, after the actress robotically gave a variation of the same answer -- I've found the man of my dreams. He is the most incredible person in the world -- to whatever question was posed.
As for Cruise, well, let's face it: No one has ever accused him of being an intellectual powerhouse. And based on some accounts, the Church of Scientology indeed appears to prey on people who are uneducated but nonetheless ambitious; people who might be easily manipulated by the church's appeals to their ego. (This reporter once visited the Los Angeles Celebrity Centre under the pretense of being interested in joining and was perfectly open to a little harmless brainwashing. The tour guide assigned to our group couldn't even articulate the basic tenets of Dianetics, but I did overhear one prospective member being told that joining Scientology would raise his IQ.)
Cruise's hyperbolic rants against psychiatry (calling it a pseudoscience) displayed a spectacular arrogance about his self-described expertise. You don't know the history of psychiatry -- I do, he said to Matt Lauer on Today. You don't even know what Ritalin is. (In the same interview, Cruise insisted that he was against the field of psychiatry even before joining Scientology.)
The below video is believed to be an interview recorded for the benefit of Cruise's fellow Scientologists. While it is at times unintelligible, it is nonetheless compelling evidence for Scientology's hold on the actor.
Even if Cruise is among the church's highest-ranking members, with unlimited access to whatever perks that position offers, there is no arguing who benefits more from the relationship -- the actor has reportedly donated millions of dollars to the church, for which he has long functioned as an unpaid spokesperson, while his career and, presumably, his personal life suffered as a result of his affiliation with Scientology, which is widely believed to be a well-funded and potentially dangerous cult.
The bad press from the Cruise and Holmes divorce follows last summer's sweeping investigation of the church in the New Yorker -- an account that relied heavily on the input of Hollywood director and former Scientologist Paul Haggis (Crash).This fall, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master -- a fictionalized account of the religion that stops short of calling it by name -- will arrive in theaters. (Cruise has already seen it, in a mysterious private screening arranged by Anderson.)
Most of us will never know the full story of Cruise and Holmes' curious courtship. But assuming Cruise did have genuine feelings for Holmes, one has to wonder how he might be feeling about his relationship with Scientology now that it has cost him his family. If ever there was a time for even the most devoted Scientologist to question the price of his beliefs, it is now.
Ellen Killoran is the Media & Culture Editor at IBTimes. She previously contributed to The L Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, and The Daily, and co-produced the HBO...