REVIEW: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief [2015]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: NR | Runtime: 119 minutes | Release Date: March 20th, 2015 (USA)
Studio: Home Box Office
Director(s): Alex Gibney
Writer(s): Alex Gibney / Lawrence Wright
(book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief)

“We’re out to make every life extraordinary”

Scientology is almost too stupid to believe. No it is too stupid to believe. That’s why I always just dismissed it as a joke—a religion founded by a science fiction author in order to never pay taxes like the rumor went. Celebrities love it, there are weird “stress” tests happening, and their God is a creature named Xenu. It was fun to laugh at them even though the whole thing screamed of brainwashing. It was fun to believe they controlled every aspect of their most famous member Tom Cruise‘s life. But whatever, right? If these sheep want to play make believe that’s their prerogative as long as no one’s getting hurt. Unfortunately, as Lawrence Wright‘s exposé showed, people were getting hurt. Badly.

The book was entitled Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. The movie Oscar-winner Alex Gibney adapted from it drops the “Hollywood” to be Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. It’s a weird omission considering the length remains unruly and since Hollywood still plays a major role in the public’s view of the religion and the film itself. To me it’s a keen maneuver, though, to focus on the true horror of what L. Ron Hubbard created away from the pop culture aspect: that “prison of belief” wherein you’re all-in or all-out with the former forcing you to relinquish control of your life. We’re talking the willful engagement in 40-cents/hour labor, sequestered isolation, and constant physical and psychological dehumanization.

So Gibney goes back to the beginning with Wright’s help as an interviewee explaining how everything began. It’s a talking head history lesson as only it could be, but this is merely the overview portion research provides. They talk about Hubbard’s affinity for sci-fi and the occult, his temper, and his friends. The most damning evidence of why he turned it all into Dianetics and eventually Scientology itself, however, comes from his second ex-wife Sara Northrup’s diaries. In them she speaks about how taxes were a motivation. How he kidnapped their daughter and left her in deplorable conditions—the same conditions we’ll soon discover the church left the children of followers in too. It’s no wonder the Church refuses to acknowledge Hubbard’s legally documented relationship with her.

The film provides the evidence necessary to corroborate the rumors we’ve heard; all the whispers coming from who knows where with an agenda we could never truly believe targeted truth over spite. Just as we saw Scientology as a bunch of lunatics, who’s to say those speaking out against it with heinous accusations weren’t also? So it becomes Gibney and Wright’s obligation to make their witnesses credible. To do this they enlist a handful of former high-ranking notables either on new supreme leader David Miscavige‘s payroll or members of the celebrity endorsement wing. By talking separately and in their words, each tells the exact same story. It’s not one, two, or three crackpots out to skewer a system that let them down. This is real.

There’s a paper trail, video footage of the Church’s abuse of power and surveillance, and records bringing the world closer to understanding just how much money is being acquired despite their designation as a non-profit. The facts will astound you and disgust you on a pure business versus religion level, but the personal tales of amoral acts and blackmail will shove you over the edge of objectivity. Or perhaps they’ll prove that objectivity is to know Scientology’s destructive nature. Paul Haggis and Jason Beghe were hugely involved for decades and yet here they are as though a cloud was lifted from their shoulders. Mike Rinder, Tony Ortega, and Marty Rathburn were Miscavige’s right arm, but no more. The abuses finally became too much.

What’s cool is that Gibney does ensure we get a handle on every aspect of the cult straight down to understanding how E-Meters and Auditing works. What’s more is that some of the opponents currently blowing this whistle maintain that they were helped. At the beginning this therapy opened them up to the stresses that prevented them from achieving happiness so they could expel the evil. The pitch worked even if it was just a placebo. They felt better, became more successful, and embraced the self-help foundation to continue on towards a world of peace without war. Only when you advance high enough on the bridge—through countless hours and thousands of dollars—do you finally see the ramblings of a madman such as Hubbard ultimately proves.

Yes, you must pay to be awakened to the fallacy of what’s been happening. And what can you do at that point? You’ve already invested so much to find you were an inhabitant of a prison planet with an overlord and that you had spirits inside you that needed to be expelled. Spirits called Thetans that somehow were evil despite—if I’m following the nonsense correctly—your goal being to become a Thetan yourself. To let the fiction wake you from slumber is to admit how stupid you were. The level of shame that inflicts would keep the most skeptical of us quiet and good people do to their detriment. Luckily some like Hana Whitfield and Spanky Taylor found the strength to say no. Others like John Travolta didn’t.

It’s his story that may prove the saddest of all when the knowledge that every “therapy” audit is documented and logged so Miscavige—a sadist if you’ve ever known the definition of the word—could keep a dossier so damning that you could never leave. The same goes from Tom Cruise although he appears more invested than most. They’re too famous to be beaten down, though. Too famous to be Miscavige’s punching bag but not too famous that he cannot ruin their lives through private detectives and strong-arming. What about those regular people under the Church’s thumb? They are kicked, starved, dehumanized, and forced to profess their love for fiction as they denounce family members and friends. Scientology proves much worse than anyone could have imagined.

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