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Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
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Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
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Directing: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B-
Editing: B



One might argue that all religions are a sham. But what Going Clear demostrates is that, really, none of them compare to Scientology. One interview subject sums it up thusly: a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim can explain the basic tenets of their faith in a couple of minutes. In Scientology, one doesn't even learn their religion's creation myth until after dozens of classes are taken and thousands of dollars are spent. The manner i which Scientology has amassed its assets in short order is staggering indeed -- and genuinely frightening. In many ways it's outright infuriating.

Director and co-writer Alex Gibney jumps off from Lawrence Wright's 2013 book of the same name, interviewing many of the same people, all long-time church members recently defected. These, unfortunately, do not include the highest-profile celebrities that have been the linchpin of Scientology's success for the past thirty years -- Tom Cruise, John Travolta -- but they do include some pretty impressive ones. Crash director Paul Haggis was a thirty-year member who finally left after he took issue with the church's treatment of his two lesbian daughters. Actor Jason Beghe was in the church for a few years before leaving and posting a controversial two-hour video to YouTube about his experiences.

Far more significant, though, is a couple high-ranking church officials who were very much a part of Scientology's letigious scare tactics as well as Chairman David Miscavige's often physically brutal intimidation techniques. Some of the pyschological torture and bizarre brainwashing described in this movie would be very hard to belief if it weren't alread reported on in even greater detail in the book.

Indeed, objectively speaking -- and this is hardly a surprse or unusual -- the book is superior. But as always, the real question is whether the film works on its own terms. It does, although not quite as well -- but what else can you expect when condensing research spanning decades down to a two-hour film? That said, there is a definite benefit to some visual representation that the book could not provide. For instance, here we get some actual footage of interviews with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. (An aside: anyone who looks at this footage and still thinks Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master was not about Scientology is deluding themselves.) It's on the record that this man beat his pregnant wife, so clearly he was a creep. But now you can see it oozing through the screen.

On the other hand, some other onscreen representations don't enhance the text quite as well, such as the graphics during certain interludes about church abuses. A bizarre story about forcing church higher-ups to play "Musical Chairs" in order to find out who won't be kicked out of the church does not need images of chairs flying through outer space. And, okay, maybe "The Hole," as they called the place they were all cloistered, had ants crawling around in it, but probably not as much as the sinister images of hundreds of ants would suggest. These stories, corroborated by multiple people, are jaw-droppingly weird enough without adding unnecessary sensationalism.

Gibney interviews author Lawrence Wright himself, making him as much a subject of the film as the others onscreen were subjects of his book. This is somewhat odd, but works better than you might expect. Gibney might have, however, done well to edit out his own questions asked from behind the camera, at a lower, almost echoey volume due to being away from any microphones.

There are hints of subtle ineptitudes in the making of this documentary, but the power of the subject matter transcends any such flaws. All that keeps Going Clear from being the great exposé it wants to be is the constraints of the film medium itself. There's just too much to tell about this organization, and not enough time to tell it, which leaves some vital details left out. These people keep multiple rooms around the world ready for the supposedly imminent return of the late L. Ron Hubbard, after all; the film makes no mention of this.

Still, while the movie on its own is far from perfect, it's still packed with information people should know. If you can't manage to read the book on which it's based (which I would recommend), then watching this movie would be the next best thing. The more people know about these people, who make up what may be the most sinister collection of religious zealots in the Western Hemisphere, the better chance there is of thinning their ranks.

Does that make me an enti-relgious bigot? People who insist their rights as Christians are being trampled would do well to consider this question. It was due to counter-suing that Scientology managed to get the IRS to declare them tax-exempt as a religious organization, after all, which brings up all sorts of questions about what actually constitutes a religion, and by extension, who truly has the right to avoid taxation. Going Clear only manages to touch on these questions -- as with many others -- due to time contraints, but it still provides plenty of food for thought.

An auditing machine can't get to the truth as well as GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF.


Overall: B
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