Who's Left to Defend Tom Cruise?

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The story of the TomKat marriage and divorce is yet another reminder of how unsettling the actor has become.

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The speed with which Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes separated and then reached a settlement is jaw-dropping in the world of celebrity divorces, which tend to drag out for months, or even years. But it's far from the first thing that's unusual about the dissolution of their marriage, which prompted less a reaction of earnest surprise and more one of perplexity that they lasted that long at all. They were a curious pairing: He, arguably the biggest movie star in the world (and inarguably the best-compensated), an egocentric eccentric; she, a cherubic everygirl best known for a teen primetime soap and a string of commercially underperforming films who was serious, even self-effacing in contrast to some of her spotlight-thirsty contemporaries.

But she also seemed too smart to get involved with a religious zealot like Cruise, which made her participation in the carefully controlled media spectacle of their courtship and ensuing marriage a compelling mystery. Cruise's couch-jumping in their initial romance, coupled with Holmes's robotic, brainwashed enthusiasm about it (as best documented in Robert Haskell's chilling 2005 profile for W and FOX News' eerie recap of the early days of their engagement) makes both of them suspect. It brands Cruise as particularly strange, though, since he seemed to be the one pulling the strings. A decade ago, we might have asked who wouldn't want to marry a rich, famous heartthrob like Tom Cruise. After Holmes, we're likelier to ask ask, who would? Maybe another girl with glassy eyes and a Manchurian Candidate mien, but if Cruise intends to remarry, he may have a hard time finding anyone in the A-list who meets those criteria.

There are still too many rumors to distill any truth from the frenzy of headlines—some credible, some preposterous, and mostly both at once: about Cruise's sexuality, about contractual obligations, about the shadowy role the Church of Scientology played in the cult of TomKat. Many sources allege that Holmes is separating now that Suri is six to avoid seeing her child absorbed into Sea Org, Scientology's elite secret boot camp. This is fortunate, since Suri is far too prim to end up scrubbing the bathroom floors at Delphian with a toothbrush, having traded her Little Marc Jacobs romper and ballet flats for institutional garb. The only people who don't find Scientology terrifying are Scientologists, so it's heartening to consider that Holmes's maternal instincts are more potent than whatever L. Ron Hubbard dictums Scientology officials have been whispering in her ear for the last half-decade.

But whether she sincerely loved him or, as some claim, a contract kept her in the marriage for a predetermined length of time, it's hard to fault her for wanting out. Tom Cruise made $75 million last year, but it's questionable whether he's still relevant, let alone likable. Cruise is an old-world movie star, and the furor of headlines about the divorce (a recent example from Gawker: "Tom Cruise Thanks Third Wife for Silence About His Craziness and Love of Dudes with Divorce Settlement") indicates that public confidence has faded in him. He's cagey, not transparent, with embarrassing public missteps like the infamous damning of mental health practitioners to Matt Lauer, or his leaked video lathering the Church of Scientology with praise. Those revealed something unsavory, that makes the prospect shelling out $13.50 to see a giddy popcorn flick like Mission Impossible—Ghost Protocol—by all accounts an excellent movie, raking in more than $693 million worldwide, the fifth-highest-grossing film of last year—somehow less appealing. Even if I still saw it, thinking about supporting the Tom Cruise empire leaves me with an unpleasant feeling, sticky as a movie theater floor. I'm happier buying into the guileless charm of the new crop of leading men like Jason Segel or Paul Rudd. Tom Cruise used to be dazzling but now, he mostly makes me uncomfortable. There's too much secrecy for me to view a figure like Tom Cruise as trustworthy, and no matter how fully he inhabits a role, he's always unmistakably Tom Cruise.

If Holmes dealt with that same disenchantment over the course of their relationship, it's unlikely that she'll ever acknowledge it in the press, at least if Nicole Kidman's silence about her marriage to Cruise is any precedent. But Holmes's steely calm, frozen in paparazzi pictures taken over the last week, negates the need for a public denouncement. She never has to say why she's divorcing him, whether it's a matter of the slow burn of disillusionment, disgust with Scientology, or, as some believe, simply choosing not to renew her contract as his wife. That secrecy may even make her more attractive as a working actress than she was before, a doe-eyed ingénue from Toledo, but it might have the opposite effect for Cruise. The quickness with which the divorce was settled, with Holmes granted primary physical custody of Suri, and a rumored clause that keeps either parent from discussing Scientology with their daughter, certainly makes it seem as though there's something to hide, which could tarnish Cruise's already dubious standing in the public eye.

But who ever really bought them as a couple? While one end of the media—a joyful Vanity Fair cover with the first pictures of Suri, and weekly tabloids churning out paparazzi pictures of the proud parents—worked overtime to couch the narrative of their wedded bliss, there was always another current, too, of conspiracy theorists at Gawker and Radar, less beholden to the PR spin cycle, whispering about Cruise's sexuality, about the millions at stake. I think it's most telling that Holmes was so quick to fire the publicist and security detail who were brought on following her engagement to Cruise, changing her cell phone number, moving into a new apartment, and beginning to build a whole new life even before she extricated herself from the marriage. Who could fault her for doubting the allegiances of the people who work for Cruise? She doesn't trust Tom Cruise any more than I do.

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Sam Lansky is a writer from New York City. He writes about entertainment and culture for MTV.com, Billboard, and The Huffington Post.

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