Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Written by: Alex Gibney
(based on the book GOING CLEAR by Lawrence Wright)
Starring: Lawrence Wright, Mike Rinder, Marty Rathbun, Paul Haggis, Jason Beghe, Tom De Vocht, Hana Eltringham & Tony Ortega
I was first introduced to Scientology through the controversial SOUTH PARK episode “Trapped In The Closet!” That was the last thought I really had given to Scientology until I stumbled across a BBC Panorama episode on YouTube in which a journalist investigates the dangerous cult and finds himself stalked, harassed and wildly misled by Scientologists who refuse to take responsibility for their reckless behavior and business practices. When it was announced that HBO had lawyered up (160 to be exact) for a documentary diving deep into the controversial “religion,” I was pretty much ecstatic. Having now seen GOING CLEAR, I safely say two things. There is not a doubt in my mind that Scientology is a dangerous cult that’s been legalized by the IRS and the film lived up to my expectations.
GOING CLEAR covers most of what you would expect to see in a documentary taking a critical stance against Scientology. From their tests and highly questionable recruiting methods to ultimate brainwashing process and many controversies, you pretty much get a good general idea of everything you’d want to know. The film is composed of interviews with eight former Scientologists and we are given first-hand accounts of their troubling experiences. Aside from these interviews, there are also clips of gatherings and celebrations including Tom Cruise accepting the Freedom Medal of Valor Award. This unintentionally hilarious award was specifically imagined just for Cruise to receive. On a quick side note, that really means about as much as a made-up Love of Celluloid Cine Award (contact me if you think you could win this “honor” that I just made up for this review!). We also see an outline of John Travolta’s interactions with the group as well as some goofy ads and a ridiculous Scientology music video (made by the group in order to celebrate their tax-free status).
For the first 30 or 40 minutes, GOING CLEAR focuses on the foundations of Scientology. We are given a history of L. Ron Hubbard’s crooked practices, manipulative methods, and crumbling sanity (ultimately buying into his own bullshit). What’s really especially interesting is seeing what an out-and-out psychopath Hubbard truly was, throwing people off a ship for disobeying his orders as well as emotionally torturing his wife (including committing her to an institution and lying to her over the phone about killing their daughter). As if Hubbard wasn’t bad enough, CLEAR doesn’t pull punches in going after the current sociopathic leader David Miscavige.
Practices of Scientology are also investigated with their audits (essentially leading to legalized blackmail), Disconnection (separating family members from those critical of the church), and most frightening of all, their Fair Game (stalking and harassing any journalist, ex-member or public figure who dares to step up against them). The last of these is definitely the most disturbing thing on display and really shows how this would-be religion isn’t as harmless as some might assume. Besides those three tactics being investigated, there are also confessions of physical abuse and psychological trauma in the “church.” Speaking of the religious status of this cult, that is also deeply looked into and criticized as it should be. By receiving status as a religion, Scientology has been protected from taxes (though it’s worth 1.5 billion and they pay their workers 50 cents an hour) and also coming out on top in law suits about the aforementioned abuse (claiming legal religious practices and compliant members).
GOING CLEAR reveals pretty much every major concern that any rational person would have with Scientology and should open plenty of passionate discussions. The phrase “drank the Kool-Aid” is used during one interview and couldn’t be more appropriate given everything seen in this powerful documentary. The only flaw of note with GOING CLEAR is that it seems to focus slightly more on smaller instances of abuse as opposed huge ones that have exploded. A violent game of musical chairs is interesting, but a girl forced to scrub the floor for being heartbroken doesn’t seem as damning as the Lisa McPherson case (which is never mentioned once) or David Miscavige’s wife (who hasn’t been seen in public since 2007). Little is said about their condemnation of psychiatry as a pseudo-science too. GOING CLEAR is a fascinating documentary that could be ridiculous and amusing, if it weren’t so devastating and terrifying.