Movie Review: “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”

Written by Jesse Gelinas April 10, 2015

"Going Clear"

The humble HQ of the Church of Scentology

Scientology has had its claws in Hollywood for decades. As far as religions go, it may not be the newest and it may not even be the craziest. But over the years it has certainly made an impression. In the past few years as the “secret” beliefs of the church’s high-level members have been made more accessible to the general public (you can thank “South Park” for some of that) it has been the target of discerning criticism, disbelief, and brutal ridicule. If HBO’s latest documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” is any indicator, none of it is ill-deserved. Alex Gibney’s adaptation of Lawrence Wright’s best-selling book paints a vivid and disturbing picture of Hollywood’s favourite pastime.

Gibney’s chilling documentary is essentially broken into three parts. First we are introduced to some famous former Scientologists (Oscar-winner Paul Haggis, and Spanky Taylor among them), who discuss what got them hooked on the philosophy to begin with. They talk of a self-help “cult” that can make your dreams come true through their intricate system of spiritual beliefs and techniques. Next, an in-depth history lesson on the church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer and former naval officer. His disputed claims of military heroism, insight into the spiritual truth of the human race, brief involvement in a Satanic cult, and troubled marriage are all explored in great detail. All culminating in his reworking of his Dianetics philosophy into the Church of Scientology. Lastly, our former church members give their accounts of the church’s secret belief system, and allegations of emotional and physical abuse by top executives. Interviews and statements from Tom Cruise and John Travolta are also peppered in for flavour.

“What… the FUCK are you talking about?” – Paul Haggis on Xenu story

I went into this documentary expecting to have a good laugh about a silly fad of a religion that leans toward the more ridiculous end of the spectrum. “Going Clear” lets you fall into this false sense of security very well, and for the first forty minutes you may find yourself double-over laughing at the debunked military deeds of Hubbard, or the rudimentary electronic parts he rigged into an auditing device known as an E-meter. Soon though, the tone has a critical shift in tone when Spanky Taylor has to talk about the neglect her infant endured at the hands of her Scientologist jailers in a work camp. Yes, an honest to god work camp (if the multiple accounts of former members are to be believed).

"Going Clear"

The man himself

When the secret beliefs of the church are explored, including the ruthless genocide acted out by the Galactic Emperor Xenu, things almost lighten up. But then you’re forced to remember that there are thousands of people who actually believe this, and thousands more who subscribe to the faith without even knowing the full extent of its mythological side. The ludicrous amounts of money these members pay to “ascend the bridge” (don’t you cross a bridge?) will make you sick. “Going Clear” excels at keeping you as off-balance and uncomfortable as Scientology itself. You can’t be quite sure what you’re going to hear next, but it gets to the point where soon nothing would surprise you. And then they talk about The Hole, allegedly a double-wide trailer where high level members are sent for re-education. I won’t divulge any more details, but I assure you, it’s not even the worst thing the documentary reveals to you.

“Wow, SP’s (suppressive persons)! Maybe one day they’ll just read about those in history books.” – Tom Cruise

Sadly, just when I was starting to like Tom Cruise again (“Edge of Tomorrow” is a solid sci-fi film and one of his best in years), he sits on my screen with that insane grin (see below) and starts babbling about “suppressive persons.” A terribly interesting portion of “Going Clear” discusses Cruise’s involvement in the church, and more recently his role as the face of Scientology. Disturbing details regarding his marriage to Nicole Kidman, and other troubling incidents are corroborated by multiple sources, and it will make you squirm.

interview footgae used in "Going Clear"

Tom Cruise discussing “SP’s”

In the end, if you are the average non-Scientologist and you’ve paid even occasional attention to the stories, “Going Clear” won’t change your mind about the controversial religion. What it will do is open your eyes to some of the deeper, darker kept secrets of the organization, and those may rattle your very soul. Spirituality is a terrific thing in the right doses, for the right reasons, and in the right way. But “Going Clear” doesn’t paint a picture of healthy spirituality within the Church of Scientology. It’s a dark, twisted web of deception and abuse. And the best part, it can all be backed up by multiple sources. So thank you Lafayette Ronald Hubbard. Thanks for crippling a good chunk of Hollywood’s elite with your sci-fi stories and, jury-rigged personality tests. I’m sure you and your Thetans are looking down on us from your space-faring DC-10, laughing your asses off.

My Rating: 9.5/10

"Going Clear" poster

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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