Scientology has never looked more sinister than disturbing HBO documentary Going Clear
Despite being in existence for over fifty years, little is known about the strange inner workings of Scientology, the controversial religion most famous for including Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its ranks. With 2015’s HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, director Alex Gibney has teamed up with author Lawrence Wright and a host of former Scientologists to highlight the ugly truth behind the religion.
It’s been a long time since a documentary as shocking and unbelievable as Going Clear has been produced. For those who know nothing of Scientology, prepare to be amazed at endless stories of violence, injustice, and psychological torment, mostly at the hands of the church’s leader David Miscavige. Film director Paul Haggis discusses how he was pressured into donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the church. Celebrity publicist Spanky Taylor tells the awful story of how she was locked in a makeshift prison away from her child for a year. Each former member reveals that secret therapy sessions (or “audits”) are used to gain as much personal information as possible in order to extort and blackmail members into staying with the church. It would be laughable if it weren’t so horrendous.
The subject matter is often upsetting and many will be troubled by the revelations within, but the pace and tone is kept fast and furious through fantastic editing. From wryly amusing archive footage of Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard evading police at sea, to sinister clips of Tom Cruise being awarded the newly created “Freedom Medal” from Miscavige, to stylish recreations of auditing sessions and the origins of Xenu (the alien leader who…in fact, just google it), Going Clear is consistently engrossing and uses every storytelling trick and technique it can. The documentary is elevated by its vast selection of interview subjects, all of whom are fascinating, frustrating, and heart-breaking in equal measures.
Despite a slightly overlong running time and an often bleak subject matter, Going Clear is morbidly fascinating and always compelling, shedding light on one of the most troubling institutions of modern times. Portraying Scientology as a troubling, abusive cult, Alex Gibney has created a jaw-dropping and provocative documentary with the power to educate and disturb audiences everywhere.
By Harry J. Ford