– Summary –
Director : Alex Gibney
Year Of Release : 2015
Principal Cast : Various.
Approx Running Time : 120 Minutes
Synopsis: A look at the Church of Scientology, told through the voices of those who escaped this evil cult.
What we think : Well mounted, concise and elucidating documentary is profoundly even, never over-the-top, and defends itself with aplomb. Going Clear will make the Church nervous, and plenty of people furious at the US Government’s inability to bring these assholes to justice.
The one person in the world who never believes he is mad, is the madman.
For the longest time, the celebrity church known as Scientology, based on the writings (ravings) of sci-fi author L Ron Hubbard, has courted controversy and scorn from the general public, largely due to its outrageous claims of aliens, interstellar travel and all manner of hallucinogenic theories of human development. With public mouthpieces like John Travolta and Tom Cruise as the “faces” of the Church, the sway and lure of the religion is immense, particularly for those seeking something other than Christianity, Islam or any of the other major religions. It would be easy to simply say that Scientology, as a “religion”, is utter nonsense, but explaining how rational, sane people might be swept up in it is something contrasting the mountain of exposure the Church has had over the journey thanks to utterly insane claims, nasty gossip about abhorrent treatment of people in the Church’s bunker headquarters, and the increasingly erratic behavior of – particularly – Tom Cruise as he sought to legitimize the Church in the eyes of the public.
Scientology is a cult, it’s a fact. At no point do any of the claims Scientology make make any sense to normal, free thinking people like you or I. Which is weird, because people continue to join up to this madness, led by L Ron Hubbard’s underling David Miscavige, and megaphones by Tom Cruise, John Travolta and many other celebrities. So why do people join? Going Clear doesn’t answer that question, but it does raise enough doubt in the veracity of Scientology’s foundation and methodology to seriously hamper its “good name”.
Going Clear is a film by Alex Gibney, based on Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name. Wright even appears as one of those interviewed for the project, since his book became something of a focal point for Scientology declaimers and the catalyst for a renewed push to have the Church’s tax exempt status revoked by the IRS. Key to many of the arguments about Scientology is whether or not it actually qualifies as a “religion”. All churches, be they Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist or other, have to comply to the US laws stating that a church cannot be run as a profitable organization, and that it cannot be run as a business.
People who denounce Scientology claim that the “religion” is really an organization designed to make money (and shitloads of it), while profiting from the IRS’s refusal to classify it as a business. According to the film, the Church actually took many of the IRS’s employees to court for civil damages, and spent an extraordinary amount of time blackmailing and extorting employees of the IRS in order to have their operation classed as “tax exempt” through sheer legal pressure. With David Miscavige at the top, and superstar celebrities like Tom Cruise extolling the virtues of the church (many say they might be being blackmailed by the fact that the Church has “Black PR” files on each person – muck they’ve raked to ensure the rank and file are kept in line.), it’s little wonder the Church’s inner workings are slowly being peeled back by whistleblower escapees.
The film has a number of vocal critics of the church within it, almost all of whom have actually been inside the Church at some point. Director Paul Haggis (The Next Three Days) is one of the more high profile people to have left the Church, after he was told he’d have to disassociate from his children (who just happen to be lesbians, the film points out) because of their sexuality. David Miscavige’s former second-in-command, Mark Rathburn, freely admits to much of the accusations swirling around the church, while the former head of the Church’s “Special Affairs” division (basically, the guys Miscavige calls when he wants to have somebody brought back to the Church against their will…) admits plenty during his screen time.
Not only that, but John Travolta’s former “handler” for the Church, Sylvia “Spanky” Taylor, unleashes upon the bottom-scraping antics of one of the Church’s more darker moments. Actor Jason Beghe, who has appeared in films such as Thelma & Louise, The Next Three Days, and X-Men: First Class, and who famously provided a 2 hour YouTube tell-all immediately after leaving the Church, is given another opportunity to vent (and vent he does).
The film’s three-pronged narrative is one of explanation, disbelief and an eye-watering miscarriage of justice. We’re given a mild, potted history of L Ron Hubbard’s life, and his creation of Dianetiks (the basis for Scientology), and how David Miscavige rose up the ranks to take control of the Church following Hubbard’s death from “a stroke”. The film uses plenty of archival footage to sell the idea that Scientology is indeed a cult – at one point, it draws parallels to Naziism during an infamous victory speech in Los Angeles following the IRS’s decision to declare the organization a Church, and free from taxation, which is absolutely horrifying if you look at it right – and while Gibney doesn’t “narrate” the film to any degree, he lets his subjects sell the arguments he wishes to make.
Gibney doesn’t go for the jugular like I expected. Scientology is an easy target – Tom Cruise’s couch-jumping antics and infamous Church propaganda video made sure of that forever – and it would be easy to see Gibney just making sure all the muckity-muck is dredged up and delivered TMZ-style; that’s not the case. Going Clear isn’t filled with hyperbole; it’s a thorough (although not too thorough – Miscavige’s wife, Sally, hasn’t been seen in public in years, and there are grave concerns for her life, but this isn’t even hinted at in Gibney’s film) and exacting unveiling of Scientology’s darkest secrets, confirmation of several theories and conspiracies, and a horrifying glimpse into what happens to people who believe something in “blind faith”. This is how intelligent, normal folks get sucked into this nightmare – they’re lured in with claims, only to find the revelations at the high end of the Church’s belief structure are staggeringly idiotic.
Frankly, f@ck Scientology. Anyone claiming that it’s anything other than a cult, run for profit, and designed to harvest people from their cash, are deluded and idiotic. Going Clear should make a lot of people angry – very angry. Beneath the surface of this 90 minute expose is a rumbling, seething level of bile the likes of which Miscavige probably knows is coming for him. There’s a reason the Church doesn’t defend itself – it attacks, by its own admission – because it doesn’t have to. But as a public relations disaster, one can only hope Going Clear paves the way for the IRS to have another look at Miscavige and the Church’s business model, and perhaps once more rip the unjust, fetid truth out from Miscavige’s smarmy, wanna-punch-him-in-the-face grin.