Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Alex Gibney.
Church of the poison mind?
Based on the revealing book written in 2013 by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Lawrence Wright, Going Clear is an eye opening documentary about the Church of Scientology. Wright’s book is the starting point for this film from prolific Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (The Armstrong Lie, Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets, etc). Gibney previously probed the darker side of religion in his 2012 documentary Silence In The House Of God, which looked at the systematic cover up of child abuse within the Catholic Church, and here he probes beneath the surface of another church. And what he discovers is truly scary.
Gibney charts the growth of Scientology which was created by L Ron Hubbard, a prolific author of science fiction novels and pulp fiction in the 50s who had mental health problems of his own. When more conventional therapies failed to help him Hubbard went on to create the self help philosophy of Dianetics. He believed he had the means to cure mankind’s psychological ills. He managed to spin this form of mental healing and coping with stress into a religion that has attracted high profile followers and adherents like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, who have swallowed the kool aid and raised awareness of the Church.
Going Clear is a meticulously researched but damning expose of Scientology and its unscrupulous practices, its unique approach to spiritualism, its rapacious business model. It is also a frightening profile of its ambitious and megalomaniacal leader David Miscavige, who assumed control of the church after Hubbard’s death in 1986. Under Miscavige, the Church took on a more sinister reputation.
But is Scientology a bona fide religion or is it just another nutty cult? When one of the tenets of the church is that they believe that man descended from an alien race of Thetans under the command of the intergalactic lord Xenu then one has to wonder. Another aspect of the Church is its code of silence that has protected it from public scrutiny for so long. The film takes its title from the penultimate level to which a practising scientologist can hope to aspire in his search for personal salvation. It just many years and lots of money to get there!
Gibney uses a deft mix of revealing interviews and carefully edited archival footage to convey a wealth of information. He paints a rather sinister picture of the church and its activities under its powerful leader. Miscavige took on the IRS with a combination of blackmail, threats and lawsuits to guarantee they gained exemption from paying taxes by being legally recognised as a church, thus protecting their millions of dollars in assets. What emerges is a portrait of Miscavige as a paranoid control freak. The film also explores the role that Scientology supposedly played in breaking up the marriage between its favourite son Cruise and Nicole Kidman, which is more the stuff of gossip magazines and tabloids.
Gibney talks to some disillusioned former Scientology members such as Oscar winning screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby, etc) who dishes the dirt on the church and their controversial “auditing” process. According to the filmmakers this is a process of therapeutic and confronting interviews via which the leaders learn personal secrets which they can use as blackmail to silence potential defectors and critics.
Gibney doesn’t really appear interested in trying to understand the church and its precepts but seems intent on exposing the physical and psychological abuse suffered by many of its members. Significantly, no-one from the church agreed to be interviewed for the documentary, which means that they don’t present their side of the story or put a more positive spin on the church and its philosophies to help us understand it better.
But like a lot of documentaries, Going Clear is a little too long and some of the information is repetitive in nature. However, it will effectively deter most right thinking people from ever taking one of those personality tests or free stress tests ever again!