Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright, is a meticulously researched, artfully designed, relentlessly jaw-dropping exposé of the Church of Scientology.
You probably know Scientology as that intriguingly weird religion that boasts of celebrity adherents such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney turns an unflinching gaze on Scientology and reveals the rot within.
The Church of Scientology was established in the 1950s by L Ron Hubbard. The foundational text of the church is Hubbard’s book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. According to Hubbard, Earth is some sort of slave planet where humans were brought billions of years ago by an intergalactic dictator named Xenu. They were put into volcanoes and blown up with hydrogen bombs.
Now why, you might wonder, would anyone join a belief system as nutty as this? The documentary doesn't really establish the allure but it does tell us, in startling details, of what happens once you join. It’s an abusive environment in which members are lured into courses, counseling sessions and auditing sessions (these are one-on-one sessions with an e-meter in which an auditor asks questions and takes notes). They end up spending years and thousands of dollars to move up a labyrinthine system of levels, eventually becoming an ‘Operating Thetan.’ Once they reach the rank of Operating Thetan III, they are given hand-written notes that explain the Xenu story.
But Scientology is more than a silly set of beliefs. As Gibney tells it, it’s a Kafkaesque, dictatorial cult in which dissent is squashed by any means necessary. There is chilling testimony here from ex-members, including Oscar winning writer and director Paul Haggis. It took Haggis more than 30 years to leave. The film also suggests that the Church played an active role in breaking up the marriage of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
At times there is too much going on in the documentary, including re-creations, film clips and testimonials. At two hours, it’s also a tad long. But Going Clear is a truly disturbing horror film. This is recommended viewing.