- on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 15:54
- by Frank Wilkins
My main exposure to Scientology once came from snippets of that infamous Tom Cruise video and a vague memory of 1980s Dianetics commercials. So the documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief filled in many blanks, showing how the cult attracts members and holds them in thrall for years.
From Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney, Going Clear tells the stories of eight former members of the Church of Scientology. Each was once highly committed to the belief system: they include a former Church spokesperson (Mike Rinder); John Travolta's one-time handler (Sylvia "Spanky" Taylor); and an ex-Scientologist of 27 years who attained its highest spiritual level (Sara Goldberg). Much of the focus is on Paul Haggis, another Hollywood insider who fell for Scientology. He explains that the cult starts out looking like self-help and only later reveals bizarre stories that believers must accept as truth, as written by founder L. Ron Hubbard. The stories sound like science fiction pulp, which is exactly what L. Ron used to write before he invented Dianetics and its later repackaging, Scientology.
Why is John Travolta an outspoken Scientologist? According to John, who declined an interview for the film and is shown only in archival footage, his religion promises a world without insanity, criminality or war. But according to the filmmaker, at least one reason is that the Church is blackmailing him. Its process of "auditing" is similar to talk therapy, producing huge volumes of personal files on each member. Former Church officials talk about their dirty tactics of blackmail and harassment.
Tom Cruise has even more damning archival footage. It surprised me that his crazy interview actually came from promotional material put out by the Church itself, declaring him its "Freedom Medal of Valor Winner" for having "introduced LRH technology to over 1 billion people of Earth." (If you think that sounds odd or exaggerated, you should hear the rest.)
Apart from celebrities, Going Clear goes after other worthy targets like L. Ron Hubbard and the Church's current chairman, David Miscavige. Hubbard, or LRH as followers call him, explicitly endorsed the sleazy methods used to silence and counterattack Church critics. Apparently, David Miscavige learned from an expert.
Not everyone enjoys documentaries, and at 2 hours long this one can get tiresome. But if you're curious about the Church of Scientology and its power, start with Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. It's scary but informative.
MPAA Rating: Not rated.
Runtime: 119 mins
Director: Alex Gibney
Writer: Alex Gibney
Cast: Alex Gibney, Paul Haggis, Jason Beghe
Tagline: Scientology and the Prison of Belief...
Memorable Movie Quote: "I was deeply convinced that we were going to save the world."
Distributor: Home Box Office (HBO)
Official Site: http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/going-clear/
Release Date: March 29, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: Ocrober 20, 2015
Synopsis: Based on the book by Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright, Going Clear profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, whose most prominent adherents include A-list Hollywood celebrities, shining a light on how the church cultivates true believers, detailing their experiences and what they are willing to do in the name of religion.
Available on Blu-ray - October 20, 2015
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround
Discs: Single disc (1 DVD)