Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)
  • Time: 119 min
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Director: Alex Gibney
  • Cast: Paul Haggis, Jason Beghe, Lawrence Wright


A devastating two hour documentary based on Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name. Scientology is laid bare by a film that skilfully knits together archive footage, testimonials from former high ranking officials and public, and dramatic reconstructions.

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  • For anyone who has read Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name from which Going Clear is based, or whoever has seen the South Park episode Trapped in the Closet, the subject of Scientology and the insane ‘beliefs’ of its dwindling members will have no doubt inspired many a conversation, as well as a state of utter dumbfounderment. Alex Gibney’s thoroughly-researched and extremely enlightening documentary doesn’t add a great deal of new information that couldn’t previously be found with a few keywords in Google, but it does condense a detailed undressing of its subject into a thrilling 2 hours, and puts this dangerous cult on a huge stage for the whole world to see.

    Gibney seems the perfect film-maker to pull this story apart and try to examine how one book by a prolific science fiction author and his subsequent God complex managed to draw in so many to create one of the most powerful ‘religions’ in America. As the talking-heads tell us (spoken by the likes of former Scientologists Paul Haggis, Mike Rinder, Jason Beghe and Marty Rathbun), they were lured into the promise of complete emotional detox, achieved by undergoing a series of ‘auditing’ sessions, in which the subject confesses his or her sins while an E-meter monitors their emotions. To progress along the various stages of the path to total clarity a payment is required, until they’ve paid enough to read the truth – that an intergalactic dictator named Xenu brought his people to Earth, dropped them into volcanoes and nuked them, and the spirits of these aliens pass into our bodies which cause spiritual and emotional harm.

    As Paul Haggis delicately puts it as he describes reading this for the first time – “What the fuck!?”. That anyone would believe this complete nonsense dreamt up by a writer of pulp fiction (never mind paying for the privilege) is an obvious topic of fascination for Wright and Gibney. To help us understand, we are given a mini-biography of church founder L. Ron Hubbard. Eerily familiar to anyone who saw Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in The Master (2012), Hubbard was a charismatic, magnetic story-teller, but also an increasingly unhinged maniac, prone to violence and psychological manipulation, who became addicted to his new position as a prophet. Scientology was an abusive cult even at this point in time (slave labour and humiliating punishments were not uncommon), but when Scientology lost its founder, the ambitious and paranoid David Miscavige took over.

    This is when the church became extremely dangerous, garnering power enough to take on the IRS for tax-exempt status and win, and throw most of its high-ranking members into a set of double-wide trailers known as ‘The Hole’ where they have fake confessions beaten out of them and are kept sometimes for years under constant observation. It’s a gob-smacking story of threats, violence and manipulation that will leave many with fists clenched, and Gibney certainly knows how to tell a detailed story at an exhilarating pace. He even manages to squeeze some sympathy out of Hubbard and the followers of Scientology, portraying the former as a man clearly degenerating into a state of complete madness as the years went by. The refusal to participate by the likes of Miscavige, Tom Cruise and John Travolta speaks volumes about this institution and its increasing paranoia, so it’s about time they put on a pedestal for the entire world to see. Reports suggesting that membership numbers have dwindled to 50,000 (it was previously in the millions) means that the film at least ends on a positive note.

    Rating: 4/5

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