Director: Alex Gibney
Starring: Paul Haggis, Jason Beghe, Mike Rinder, Marty Rathbun, Tom De Vocht
Have you ever wandered what really goes on inside the ‘Church’ of Scientology? How does it work? Why do so many people join? Why are there so many celebrity members? Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief attempts to uncover what makes Scientology tick.
Based on the book by Lawrence Wright of the same name, director Alex Gibney has managed to secure a series of interviews with many high-profile ex-Scientologists and others who have been connected to the religion, in order to understand the inner workings of the Church of Scientology. People such as two-time Oscar winning director Paul Haggis, actor Jason Beghe, and former Church of Scientology senior executives Mike Rinder, Marty Rathbun and Tom De Vocht.
Scientology has been in the public eye for a while now, mainly due to their impressive collection of celebrity members – Tom Cruise and John Travolta immediately spring to mind – but also due to their unusual beginnings and even more unusual beliefs. Scientology was the work of science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and, since its inception in 1954, the Church has become an undeniable powerhouse, not only in Hollywood but the world over. They boast a significantly large war chest and an ever increasing membership. It almost seems as if they’re expecting, maybe even planning, a war…
There’s this cult called Scientology, and if you give them all your money, they’ll make anything possible in your life.
What Alex Gibney has managed to do, which not many have done before, is to get first-hand accounts from people who were involved with the Church at a high level. The interviews with former Church of Scientology senior executives Mike Rinder, Marty Rathbun and Tom De Vocht are particularly enlightening. They divulge how the Church really worked, what went on behind the scenes. What you quickly come to realise whilst watching this documentary is that the Church is basically a money-making machine, and was set up by Hubbard for that exact purpose. Ever since it was granted religion status by the IRS (the tactics used in order to gain this status are pretty outrageous), the Church has gone from strength to strength.
Going Clear delves into the sordid past of Scientology, all the way up to present. It features some great, rare footage of L. Ron Hubbard himself, talking about his venture into the world of religion. The film also highlights what Scientologists are supposed to believe, or at least what L. Ron Hubbard wanted them to believe, which was basically one of his sci-fi novels, and by no means one of his best. One of the more shocking revelations in the documentary is the actions of its current leader, dubbed as the ‘Chairman of Religious Technology Centre’ David Miscavige, who is either an incredibly evil man, or a very brainwashed one.
There is no logical explanation other than faith.
Take a look at his picture and make your mind up for yourself – he seems pretty evil to me. Some of the stories the interviewees recount about how he runs his Church bring to mind something out of a psychological horror film or Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. He’s not a man who is averse to using unethical, duplicitous, slanderous, and completely illegal tactics to get what he wants. And who better to hear these accounts from than the interviewees themselves – the people that suffered them.
So much information is covered in this documentary, and it is certainly a compelling piece of cinema, due to its remarkable and at times unbelievable content. Gibney may not display much directorial flair, or any at all for that matter, yet it isn’t really needed for this sort of documentary. The meat lies in the eye-opening and often eye-watering interviews, and having the interviewer take a step back and let the interviewee speak makes it much more absorbing.
Many of the interviewees’ stories will have you wanting to go out and do something about the injustices they have had to endure at the hands of what is ultimately a cult operation parading itself as a religion. They promise their followers everything, and, if this documentary is anything to go by, offer them nothing but suffering and lies. It’s an incredibly brave film, both for the filmmaker and the people he’s interviewing; the Church of Scientology have proved that they give as good as they get. I’m feeling a bit paranoid just writing this review.