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Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief – Movie Review

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Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

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Of all of the religions and organisations that have sprouted up over the past century, Scientology is probably the most intriguing. Their guarded secrecy and the amount of high-profile celebrity members certainly play a part as have all of the scandals that have appeared over the years. Alex Gibney’s portrait of Scientology probably won’t lead to an onslaught of new people joining the Church, but it provides such a compelling glimpse into their practices, it makes one want to explore the subject more. I actually wish Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief was longer as there is not one dull second and it manages to turn L. Ron Hubbard into one of the most fascinating cult figures of the 20th century.

When presenting the timeline of the documentary, Alex Gibney makes the smart decision of not mocking those who left Scientology. It actually makes perfect sense why the organisation would be appealing to some people. The initial idea of a world where there are no wars or anxiety is one with lot of potential. As interviewers like Paul Haggis, Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun explain, the notion of expelling our bad qualities through almost psychiatric sessions could be used to help a lot of people, who maybe don’t respond well to medication. However, the documentary goes into other details which makes one wonder why the Church of Scientology feel it’s okay to perform these actions. How does sticking people into an enclosed space called The Hole help anyone? Why do people have to pay large sums of money to find out more information about the Church’s beliefs? In this day and age of expansive online sources, it seems counterproductive. Watching Going Clear certainly makes one want to read more about Scientology’s teachings, but thanks to Wikipedia, the average person can do that without paying a penny to the group.

The belief in the Alien Overlord Xenu certainly feels like the work of a science-fiction writer and it doesn’t come as surprise upon further research that L. Ron Hubbard wrote a screenplay and tried to sell it to studios. Truth be told, Revolt in the Stars would be a very entertaining movie and if Scientology didn’t have such a grip on it, one could see a Hollywood producer making it. For a lot of us who grew up and are fascinated by sci-fi alien stories, there is a certain amount of imagination in the story of Xenu, but why L. Ron Hubbard decided to base a religion around it remains to be seen. While Going Clear is scathing about current leader David Miscavige, Hubbard is left more ambiguous. It makes one leave the screening with a thought on whether he created Scientology because of genuine belief in it or to make money on peoples’ need for help and guidance. The archival interview portions that tell the bulk of Hubbard’s story are fascinating in how he articulates himself with such confidence. Here is a man who created this entire religion/cult from scratch and his planning and growth of it is almost unprecedented. Not even Christianity took this short a time span to build its legion of followers.

The portion of Going Clear focused on the celebrities, with emphasis on its two most famous members, is definitely the juiciest portion for a lot of people. However, it never becomes gossip and John Travolta is particularly looked at as sympathetic (though his infamous film adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard’s novel Battlefield Earth is left out). A lot of attention is paid to Tom Cruise and his growing connections to Scientology, particularly on his multiple romances over the years. It provides an understanding of his sudden shift in supporting the Church after his break-up with Nicole Kidman and presenting a close buddy relationship between him and Miscavige. Cruise is never made to be a villain, but merely somebody roped into an organisation and blind to the possible flaws hidden within the closets. Looking further into Scientology’s position in Hollywood, there is a lot more the documentary could have delved into, but with so much to expose in two hours, Gibney is smart to not keep the film on a single topic. There is a lot more to the Church of Scientology than simply the long list of celebrity members and that’s precisely what makes the subject so fascinating.

If a documentary’s goal is to get you involved in the topic and make you want to learn more, then Going Clear has certainly done its job. The entire club of followers that L. Ron Hubbard built is almost like an entirely different world and Alex Gibney teases us enough to keep on digging. Most importantly, it explains the initial recruitment process and why the average Joe or famous person would be entranced by what they offer. The whole process of auditing and expelling one’s bad feelings sounds promising the way Going Clear describes it at the beginning. While some people would probably prefer a more brutal examination of Scientology, this film exists as an introductory course on the subject with more shocking reveals coming in each chapter. If you only know Scientology as that odd group Tom Cruise is a member of, this will succeed in peaking your curiousity to explore further and maybe even borrow a Hubbard book or two from the library. It’s almost like the best advertisement for Scientology out there, despite having the likely effect of drawing people as far away from the Church as possible.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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