UK Release Date: 26th June 2015
Runtime: 120 minutes
Director: Alex Gibney
Writer: Alex Gibney
Starring: Lawrence Wright, Mark Rathbun, Monique Rathbun, Mike Rinder, Jason Beghe, Paul Haggis, Sylvia Taylor
Synopsis: In a detailed look at the Church of Scientology and its followers, Alex Gibney exposes the lies and manipulation practiced by the organisation’s high-ups.
With its weird secrecy and penchant for recruiting celebrity followers, Scientology has been called everything from a cult to a circus act. With such notoriety, it’s a natural subject for documentary maker Alex Gibney, who has covered WikiLeaks, Lance Armstrong and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in recent years. Going Clear, as a result, is a confrontational, potent and incendiary look at the shady world of the Scientologists.
Going Clear is split into three acts. The first details the seduction process that brings Scientologists in, as told by lapsed members of the Church. The second segment discusses the history of Scientology and its founder, L Ron Hubbard. Finally, the third section of the film focuses on allegations of misconduct, including some shocking allegations about the celebrity members who have turned Scientology into what it is today.
Gibney is one of the most prolific and interesting documentarians working today and Going Clear might be his most provocative work so far. The film is a lacerating takedown of Scientology that is both an essential briefing for those unfamiliar with the Church and a treasure trove of new information for those familiar with L Ron Hubbard’s fantastical claims.
| "I was deeply convinced that we were going to save the world."
Crucially, though, Going Clear never has the feel of a hatchet job. Gibney wisely avoids Michael Moore-style polemic and lets the former Scientologists lead the way in discussing the ins and outs of the Church. In fact, Going Clear’s assessment of L Ron Hubbard is quite a kind one, with much of the vitriol saved for current leader David Miscavige, who has been dogged with accusations of shocking misconduct throughout his leadership.
Miscavige is the pantomime villain at the centre of Going Clear. He is repeatedly singled out by the interviewees, including in the case of shocking revelations about Tom Cruise’s love life. When the film asserts that Miscavige actively recruited romantic partners for Cruise and tapped Nicole Kidman’s phone, it’s tough not to see Scientology as a shady, paranoid organisation determined to protect its interests.
Scientology documentaries have been produced at quite a rate in recent years, but Gibney’s forensic approach brings plenty to the table. Going Clear is perfectly content to laugh at the stranger excesses of thetans, hydrogen bombs and galactic leaders in Scientology, like so many before it. However, it never allows the audience to forget the dangers presented by the organisation and the way it manipulates its supporters. Scientology is often funny, but it’s terrifying too.
| "It’s so strong that it sticks to you, like glue."
It’s initially questionable whether anyone actually needs to see another documentary take on a topic that is so well-worn. However, Gibney has produced something truly essential with Going Clear. Whether you’re a Scientology novice or familiar with the world of thetans, this is a doc that you need to see.
Pop or Poop?
With a refreshingly unpartisan eye, Alex Gibney shines a light on Scientology in Going Clear. David Miscavige comes out of the film with a metaphorical black eye, but Gibney isn’t interested in a reason-free hatchet job.
Going Clear works as both a first-time look at the weird world of Scientology and as an addition to the ever-expanding canon of incendiary, provocative works about the Church.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.