An in-depth look at the inner-workings of the Church of Scientology.
The latest documentary from award winning filmmaker Alex Gibney is a gripping film about the Church of Scientology that explores the church from its origins through to the allegations against it in recent years. As a documentary filmmaker, Gibney is terrific at setting a scene then really powering after his subject matter to create shocking and insightful viewing, and he doesn’t disappoint here as ‘Going Clear’ unfolds with as much intensity as a good thriller. Scientology may seem like a joke to many people, but it’s a billion dollar organisation that will do anything to keep the sinister aspects of their operations under wraps, and ‘Going Clear’ does an excellent job of bringing elements of this to the surface.
The early stages of the film outline the origins of Scientology by looking at the life and career of its creator L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer with an intriguing past who developed an interest in self help and psychology after a spell in the Navy during WWII. The film is mostly focused around interviews with former members who decided to leave the church for various reasons, and they all talk about what attracted to them to the church in the first place. The simple goals of the church have a lot of merit and it’s easy to see why people are seduced by an organisation offering the opportunity to better yourself through self help manuals and courses, but ‘Going Clear’ delves deeper and poses many interesting questions on the dangerous nature of blind faith.
The former members interviewed include Oscar winning director Paul Haggis and several high ranking members who provide invaluable insight into the operations at the top of the organisation, and this grows in importance when we start to learn about the darker side of how the church operates, particularly in the way it deals with those who lose faith in the church. The one major downside to the film is the lack of balance as we only spend time with former members (the church declined to contribute), and all of the information about current leader David Miscavige comes second hand. Despite this, there is compelling evidence of abuse within the church from multiple sources, with individuals pressured to stay in or they would be labelled as a suppressive person, with other members of the church instructed to ‘disconnect’ from them, including close friends and family.
The documentary also digs into the church’s status as a religious organisation, which therefore gives it tax-exempt status around the world, exploring the reasons why this decision was made and the justification for its continued status when it’s run more like a business with a CEO (Miscavige) than a traditional religious organisation. It also spends some time on the church’s celebrity champions, such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise, and tries to explain why many creative people have been seduced by the church’s message and became such vocal supporters. Whilst the lack of balance takes away some of the credibility of the statements about Cruise and Travolta, it certainly provokes some interesting thoughts.
Powerful and unsettling, ‘Going Clear’ is a fascinating insight into the church of Scientology that skilfully explores its origins before digging into the corrupt practices that lure people in and prevents them from leaving. The film suffers slightly for a lack of balance, but it more than makes up for it with strongly crafted arguments and a mindblowing expose of this sinister and secretive organisation.
Directed By: Alex Gibney
Starring: Paul Haggis, Jason Beghe, Laurence Wright, Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder