For decades, everyone on the outside wondered what exactly was going on within the church of Scientology and how can they be a real religion? Academy Award Winning Documentarian Alex Gibney tackles the church by going through its members who had left, including Hollywood director Paul Haggis, Mike Rinder, Marty Rathbun, and Jason Beghe. Footage is shown of Tom Cruise and John Travolta winning awards within the church and defending its ludicrous practices. Details are uncovered about founder L. Ron Hubbard and how he managed to get the church populated. The audience is told about audits, which involve and interview lasting hours in which the patient unveils all his/her deepest secrets. Those interviews which can be used against you if you attempt to leave. That, or you’re locked in the “Hole” for an unknown amount of time, where you’re forced to do unrealistic amounts of manual labor. Can’t forget all the spying on members and anyone trying to talk bad about Scientology. If any of this is even mildly interesting or shocking, this movie is for you.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is wonderfully directed by Alex Gibney who has a knack for churning out documentaries like they’re nothing, while also managing to make each of them pretty great. He’s got three projects out this year, the other two studying the lives of Steve Jobs and Frank Sinatra, but Going Clear is going to be the most impactful, as it pulls back the curtain to reveal what’s really going on behind closed doors in the Church of Scientology. Though it does leave some questions unanswered, the initial shock-and-awe combined with the factuality of the film is enough to leave the viewer floored.
As he learns more and more about the Church’s practices, Director Alex Gibney walks a very fine line between objective and subjective viewing of the church. His questions are analytical and probing, but his reactions reflect exactly what the audience is thinking: how is this a real religion and how do these people not realize how crazy it is? Gibney spends much of his time interviewing members of the Church who have left at some point and discusses their initial involvement and when they knew they had to break away from the church. Gibney also uncovers archival footage that really speaks for itself. He highlights the high-profile scientologists (Travolta and Cruise), their involvement, and then gathers information as to how they were and are being used by the church. Gibney uncovers so much information that it gets to a point where he can’t use it all, but there’s more than enough for the audience to sift through, now that Gibney has blazed the trail.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the church is their likeness to an abusive partner, though it’s not far off to see aspects of rape culture within the church as well. Victim blaming and shaming is a process used by the church to keep its members in line, while also proving that they can be value to God and the church. Despite harsh physical and emotional abuse to the point of torture, these members keep coming back because the church is all they have. All their time, money, friends, and secrets lie within the church’s walls and if the church believes that a member might leave or cause a problem, the church threatens to reveal sensitive information. The members are lead to believe that there is something wrong with them and that the punishment is deserved. To everyone outside of the church’s reach, it seems absurd that they would endure the abuse. Much like rape/abuse culture, however, we can’t understand why victims stick with their abusers. It’s a very complex issue that can’t be easily explained and it gets to a point in the film where you start to see the members less as fools, and more as victims.
L. Ron Hubbard, the creator of the Church and all of its zany beliefs, morphs into a manipulative monster as the film progresses and his influence becomes alarming almost immediately. Sure, is initial science and religious notions made sense, as they were an accumulative study of other sciences and religions. Things go to hell once he begins to make things up and his members don’t bat an eye. Through the interviews, the members who left recount the absurdity of Hubbards messages and practices, but they’ve already been through so much that they’re willing to overlook it and proceed. As much a problem as L. Ron Hubbard was, he’s been replaced with a mean-spirited leader in the form of David Miscavige. He’s the one responsible for beating numerous members of the church, as well as locking them in a trailer with little supplies for over a year. He was key in orchestrating Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise’s divorce and he uses the thousands of journal records against the celebrities who threaten to leave. Naturally, he stopped giving interviews after some time because he could no longer convincingly lie about his practices.
As a documentary on what most view as an absurd religion, this film can also be applied to many aspects of many other church’s that have existed for far longer. Every church strives to be inviting and warm to potential and current members, keeping them coming back each week. Every form of the Bible is tweaked by each christian religion and they attach their own unique practices, but ultimately believe the same things. The power and influence of chruch’s is evident in our society, as it was founded upon Christianity. If you want to talk about the power that a church has over individual and its mass members, the Catholic church is the perfect place to start. As children are born in the church, they grow up never knowing another way of life or that their views could be seen as absurd. The concept of a large group of people claiming that they’re right while everyone else is wrong has always been funny to me, because that’s exactly what every religious group believes: we’re right and they’re wrong. These basic mentalities are the foundation of how Scientology became so large and ridiculous. As ridiculous as the auditing process may be, isn’t also ridiculous that women can’t hold church positions or that people can’t marry who they love in some religions?
Going Clear is absurd until it’s distributing, as it reveals the power that a cult/religion can have over individual and mass thought. It’s hard to imagine how none of the early members called bullshit on this religion, but as you watch these people become practically brainwashed by inviting people who can promise to help heal you through God, it forces you to look at how different religions work. While few can match the unbelievable practices of Scientology, there are still many church’s with outdated and impractical beliefs. Going Clear forces us to ask questions about religion, how far its influence can spread, and whether that influence is spread in the name of someone’s God or for worse purposes. If anything, Alex Gibney effectively tackles the questions that people have always had about Scientology, even if he comes up short a few answers in the end.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief Trailer