It's super weird to like Tom Cruise in 2016. He exists in his own category: somewhere beyond man, or even human. He is beyond sexy, he is an alien object. He's in that Morrissey Androgynous Zone, with a neutral sexuality that commands a Hemingway-esque masculinity. The question looms over us: who is Tom Cruise?
This is how you feel after watching a Tom Cruise flick: That was kick ass! How did he do that? He was so shirtless! It didn't matter whether or not he got the girl. A lot of stuff blew up and he won, which means WE won. Followed by an exchange of celebratory high-fives with your pals. Someone adds: Tom Cruise is a maverick! A hero! Fuck, that was amazing! followed by an attempt to start a U-S-A! U-S-A! chant.
Then there is a silence as you leave the theatre (because, of course, you paid full-price to see his latest movie release week): you and your friends share a quiet moment, each independently wondering how this momentary show of approval for Tom Cruise comes off. Popcorn crunching beneath your feet, someone awkwardly changes the subject.
Why do we care? Our dilemma is that we can't not care. Tom Cruise is mysterious, stern, impenetrable: the stuff of hard romance. His kind of celebrity harkens back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when stars were rarely as they seemed, held secrets, were assholes, changed their names, yet delivered undeniable performances, and were infinitely adored. Like Cary Grant or Rock Hudson before him, Tom Cruise is the last in this legacy of untouchable dudes.
Ask someone out of context (i.e. not after seeing one of his movies) what they think of Tom Cruise and their answer will begin with a long pause. They ponder: weirdo brainwashed Scientologist or entertaining celebrity and actor… and what about poor Katie Holmes…
Ah! The mystery! What lies beneath the insanely expensive sweaters, his practically hairless chest, his perfectly built biceps? Sexy blood and hunky bones or metallic skeleton sheathed in Scientology-controlled flesh? We can't be sure.
As such, the public has failed to unite on an opinion of offscreen Tom Cruise. He's always acting, whether the camera is rolling or not. And what he chooses to reveal only frustrates us. We just want him to be that cute, Wayfarer-wearing guy again, sport-socked feet, sliding into our hearts like he did in Risky Business.
Some celebrities are Universally Bangable, such as Scarlett Johanssen. Bring me one person, male or female, that can not recognize her bangability. You will never find that person because they don't exist: ScarJo is the hottest. And at one time, so too was Tom Cruise.
From 1981 until 2004 he maintained his Universal Bangability. We agreed unanimously that he was adorable, and translated that adoration into epic ticket sales: the Spielberg-directed War of the Worlds grossed $591 million at the box office in 2005. Then Tom Cruise had to go and ruin it all by jumping on that fucking couch.
Couchgate was Tom Cruise declaring war on himself. He tried to open his heart, in a tiny way, to let out some light. He attempted the performance of a lifetime, assuming the role of a heterosexual human being. And we chastised him for it. Like zombies at the apocalypse, we ate through his sensitive side. Like soft, unturned baby brains, we, the viewing public, gorged ourselves on his every misstep.
On air, Oprah yelled: "He's gone," but we wouldn't realize until much later what that meant. Couchgate was Tom Cruise's mic drop. After that he locked the light away, took his heart and soul, and went home. One writer calls his present celebrity existence a "Scientology punchline," another suggests that "he doesn't exist when he's not being watched," and that beneath the masks he wears, there is "… nothing at all."
Couchgate was facepalm-worthy but became a point of reference: hunky, Scientologist, and now add emotional renegade to the profile. If Tom Cruise is an empty vessel into which an identity must be poured, what has he given us recently to latch on to? He remains an enigma wrapped in a conundrum, an ever-flowing personality-less personality that no vessel could ever possibly contain. *sigh*
He takes his job very seriously. During an interview on Inside the Actor's Studio, Tom Cruise lays it down: "I want what I want from everybody: which is, I want the best that they have to offer. I want professionalism, and I want them to help, and to help the people around them and respect the people they're working with. I want communication and commitment, the kind of commitment that I give to my work."
He describes how this giving of everything to a picture is a process that leaves him hollow. Employing the Meisner technique, which requires the actor to develop an instinctive reaction to their surroundings, Tom Cruise carefully researches and trains for every role. Working for years on a character, learning the skills as that character might know them, he essentially becomes the individual in the script.
Did he once aspire to be a secret agent, an intelligence officer, involved in the most covert of ops? As a dyslexic, left-handed kid in the 70s, maybe he didn't make the grade. But why should he join the military, or adhere to any organization, when he works pretend versions of these jobs? And if left hollow after principal photography is done, he's got religion to make him feel like he belongs to something, to give him greater purpose.
Tom Cruise has not strayed much from a particular storyline in his past few films: Jack Reacher, Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and the forthcoming Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. As a uniformed or renegade officer, something wrong is revealed to him, and he is the only one who has the intel to put things right. These movies are about questioning authority, trusting your instinct, and believing in truth and justice.
Like a true Artist, his main-d'oeuvre is his legacy: open to interpretation, there to engage and draw us into his journey, to inspire our imaginations. Tom Cruise is participating in mainstream statement art. And much like Banksy, the conversation is one-sided, leaving us wanting more.
But what about us? The internet offers this common sentiment: "I have for decades now been a Tom Cruise apologist," writes a conflicted blogger after watching Going Clear. Or the prophetic postscript written by the creator of this Tom Cruise Going Clear supercut: "Tom Cruise will decide to leave the church of Scientology and speak out against it's [sic] abuses. Then we can stop hating him, coz [sic] that new Mission Impossible trailer looks kickass."
The documentary Going Clear is a critical take on Scientology that the church finds deeply offensive. Religion is an easy target—humans fear what they don't fully understand—and the same movie could have been made about any other religion. But the post-cult sheen of Scientology's on-brand marketing and deep secrecy continues to draw the ire of outsiders. The only way to find out what it means to truly "go clear" is to submit yourself to the faith: body, mind and soul.
Unfortunately, we can't rate "personal religious beliefs" on Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic. And of the characters he's played, the role of Scientologist figurehead is the one we like the least. We can't deal. It's (possibly) more unforgivable than the douchey guy he played opposite Cameron Diaz in the action-packed buddy-romance flick, Knight and Day.
"You can't do it by yourself. It's not a solo game out there," Tom Cruise says in that Actor's Studio interview. "It's all of us," he continues, suggesting he might be this regular guy just trying to make a living. Maybe he's not that different? Oftentimes we look to others, trying to align our own weird lives with what more famous, more successful people are doing. But in the case of Cruise, it's impossible. There's nothing parallel about him, nothing to align with: he's merely untouchable.
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