The Clearing: Is Dr. Bryce Latham Based on an Actual Person? How Did He Die?

Image Credit: Ben King/Hulu/Disney+

An Elise McCredie and Matt Cameron creation, ‘The Clearing’ is a Hulu (Disney+ internationally) psychological thriller series from Australia. The plot revolves around Freya Heywood (Teresa Palmer), a former member of a cult named the Kindred, active decades earlier in rural Victoria. Following the sudden disappearance of a local girl, Freya begins to suspect that the Kindred has become active again. She knows that the leader of the group, Adrienne Beaufort / Maitreya (Miranda Otto), is only pretending to have dementia, and almost everyone in her close circle, including physicist and former professor Dr. Bryce Latham (Guy Pearce), is aware of it.

In ‘The Clearing,’ Dr. Latham can effectively be referred to as the co-founder of the Kindred. He is an intellectual who shifted his attention from physics to metaphysics and became involved in an organization that destroyed his academic legacy. He is nearly as responsible as Adrienne herself for the trauma, pain, and misery endured by Freya and the others when they were children. As many of you probably know, ‘The Clearing’ is based on the 2019 novel ‘In the Clearing’ by JP Pomare, which offers a fictionalized rendition of the real-life Australian cult The Family. If that has made you wonder whether Dr. Bryce Latham is based on a real person, we got you covered.

Dr. Bryce Latham is Inspired by Raynor Johnson

‘The Clearing’ begins with the following message, “While certain story elements were inspired by actual events, this series is a work of fiction. The characters, names, places, and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes, and no identification with actual persons (living or dead), places, or events, should be inferred.” Yes, Dr. Bryce Latham is indeed inspired by a real person, though like everything else in the series, Latham’s real-life counterpart has been heavily fictionalized in the adaptation process. The character is based on the late physicist, author, and parapsychologist Raynor Johnson.

Image Credit: Ben King/Hulu/Disney+

In an interview, Pearce Guy told The Guardian that he is generally nervous about how much research he should do while tackling a character. “It can be helpful sometimes, but it can also open up cans of worms that convolute what it is I’m initially picking up from in the script,” the actor said. Originally from Leeds, England, Johnson obtained an MA at the University of Oxford and a Ph.D. in Physics at the University of London. Even when he was in London, Johnson felt drawn to parapsychology and became associated with the Society for Psychical Research in London.

Owing to his religious background, Johnson decided to move to Australia and was appointed at the Methodist Queen’s College at the University of Melbourne in 1934. He went on to hold that position for the next three decades. In the following years, his beliefs in mysticism and psychical research garnered him detractors within the Methodist Church and the university, leading to his retirement in 1964. In 1962, when Johnson was 61-years-old, he had the fateful first meeting with yoga teacher Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the eventual leader of The Family and the real-life person Miranda Otto’s character is partly based on in ‘The Clearing.’

For all intent and purpose, Johnson was the co-founder of The Family along with Hamilton-Byrne, whom he described in his writing as “supernaturally beautiful.” In a statement, the Queen’s College Council criticized Johnson for the role he played in the creation and expansion of The Family. “The theological base of the sect’s ideology was based on his [Johnson’s] theological and philosophical views, subtly appropriated and exploited by Mrs. Hamilton-Byrne. His name unquestionably added lustre and respectability to the sect’s activities. He also defended it in the media when its secretive activities began to attract adverse attention.

Through his many public addresses, both in Melbourne and overseas, he recruited members to the sect. However, there is no evidence to suggest that he actively targeted his students or alumni of the college to become members of the group,” the statement read. It went on to state that while there is no evidence linking Johnson to the management and operations of the Newhaven Psychiatric Hospital in Kew, which the cult reportedly used for recruiting new members and access to LSD, he did sometimes visit the facility and likely knew the exact nature of the association it had with The Family. According to the statement, Johnson probably knew about the adoptions. However, it then adds that there is no evidence that Johnson was aware of the horrific treatment of the children.

Raynor Johnson Died a Natural Death

Raynor Johnson was married. He and his wife, Mary Rubina Buchanan, exchanged wedding vows in October 1925. They had four children: two daughters and two sons. In the 1960s, he traveled to India and interacted with a number of religious figures. He had a property named “Santiniketan” (abode of peace) at Ferny Creek near Melbourne, which was regularly used for meetings by The Family. Johnson came to regard Hamilton-Byrne as his spiritual guru or master.

Johnson died on May 16, 1987, at Upper Ferntree Gully, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, and is interred at Macclesfield Cemetery. Ironically, authorities raided The Family headquarters (Kai Lama) in August of that year, and the children were removed from The Family’s custody. Six years later, Hamilton-Byrne and her husband were extradited from the US to face charges in Australia.

Read More: Is The Clearing’s Kindred Based on Australia’s The Family Cult?