Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
2015, NR, 119 min. Directed by Alex Gibney.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Sept. 25, 2015
Since its inception, the Church of Scientology has obsessively shrouded itself in an impenetrable cloak of secrecy, using all kinds of (scare) tactics to successfully obscure its inner workings from public view. That is, until now. The HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which closely adheres to Lawrence Wright’s acclaimed 2013 book of the same name, doesn’t merely peek under the church’s zealously maintained guise. It disrobes this controversial religion to reveal an emperor without clothes, an organization that runs on fear and weakness, seducing its impressionable members with the promise of freedom from the harmful emotions of the reactive mind (i.e., “going clear”) in return for their unwavering commitment to the sect. According to the film, Scientology is a belief system empowered by mendacity, harassment, manipulation, and psychological and physical abuse. And that’s just for starters. Karl Marx famously likened organized religion to an opiate, a palliative that deadens the existential pain suffered by the faithful. As some of the video clips in this documentary attest, the narcotic of Scientology induces a state of altered consciousness in its adherents as powerful as any controlled substance, but without the syringe or the pipe.
Like its literary source, the film is a little scattershot, referring to things like the Sea Organization (the core Church membership reputedly treated like indentured servants) before providing any backstory to fully appreciate the reference. The cast of talking heads in Going Clear consists primarily of former members who voluntarily left the church, from the recognizable television actor Jason Beghe, to Oscar-winning screenwriter/director Paul Haggis (Crash), to once-prominent Scientology leaders Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun. There’s a strong undercurrent of shame and regret in these interviews, which are undoubtedly motivated by the notion that the truth will set one free. But it’s the nonparticipatory presence of Scientology’s most famous ambassador in the film that stays with you the most. In video segments scarier than any couch-jumping antics on a talk show, actor Tom Cruise salutes the organization’s Napoleonic chairman David Miscavige like a soldier in an army of darkness, and rambles on about a world free of suppressive persons like he’s auditioning for the loony bin. One thing is clear in Going Clear: The man has taken one super-big gulp of the Kool-Aid.
Author Lawrence Wright will be in attendance following the 7pm screening on Friday, September 25.