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Review: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
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PLOT: An in-depth expose of Scientology, from its founding by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, through its relentless rise in popularity throughout the eighties and nineties.

REVIEW: GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF is absolutely incendiary entertainment. The latest doc from Alex Gibney (THE ARMSTRONG LIE, WE STEAL SECRETS and many more) this expose aims to once and for all blow the lid off one of the most controversial organizations of the last half century – The Church of Scientology. While recently the church's reputation has fallen into the gutter, in the nineties it seemed all-powerful in Hollywood, with most of the leading actors of the era being devout members. To this day, John Travolta and especially Tom Cruise remain devoted to it, and due to their highly litigious nature, very few ex-members with any kind of profile have gone on record against it (notably Nicole Kidman).

However, some of the church's former higher-ups have in fact turned against the church, and their stories are what Gibney relies on here, along with a wealth of documentary footage that casts a lot of suspicion on an organization that seems almost comical when you know just a little about it, but takes on a far more sinister air the deeper you go into its history and policies.

While I'd wager the best-ever takedown of Scientology was the infamous South Park episode “Trapped in the Closet,” GOING CLEAR is a very user-friendly and informative guide to the so-called “religion's” history, with it originally emerging as the brainchild of sci-fi pulp writer L. Ron Hubbard. Rare-interview footage paints of picture of a deranged man who somehow managed to hold sway over thousands of followers. The craziest thing about the religion is how its convoluted, space-opera style creation story is readily accepted by the members, who seem to honestly believe stories about intergalactic war-lords and Xenu and volcanoes holding the souls of “thetans” who enter our bodies at birth. It's all so-insane, with even former member Paul Haggis (director of CRASH) speaking in disbelief about how he'd only been told the story after contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of his life to the church. Yet, he stayed on...

But, where GOING CLEAR gets really disturbing is when it goes into the cult of personality new church-head David Miscavidge has built around himself. This part of the story reveals defacto prison camps and virtual slave labor. Miscavidge himself is presented as hyper detached from reality, with him and his cronies parading around in tailor-made, militaristic outfits and such. Video footage from opulent rallies that are uncomfortably reminiscent of Leni Riefenstahl's TRIUMPH OF THE WILL are especially damning, with footage showing people like Cruise saluting L. Ron Hubbard's portrait or Travolta serenading him with “happy birthday”– years after he died (although they seem to think he's transcended his body rather than passed-away) and crowing about their tax exempt status.

Anyone going into this wanting gossip on the many celebrity members probably won't come away with any new information, although previously told tales, including Cruise's contentious breakup with Nicole Kidman are related here by church insiders who vouch for the accuracy of the stories. These range from funny – such as Cruise having the Church plant a meadow for him so he could run through it with Kidman – to the scary, with it suggested that Kidman's phones may have been tapped on Miscavidge's orders. It's also theorized that people like Travolta, who have revealed all of their deepest darkest secrets in auditing sessions, are virtual prisoners of the church, who've been known to have their critics followed and wage campaigns of misinformation against former members. There's a lot of very disturbing footage featuring dead-eyed members harassing people like former second-in-command Mark Rathburn. Yet, former members admit that their devotion was so strong that they didn't even realize their human rights were being denied to them. It's crazy to think such seemingly-intelligent people could so readily fall for what the church is preaching.

GOING CLEAR's only failing is that no one on the Scientology side of the fence agreed to be interviewed, although all things considered it seems unlikely anyone would have the courage to go toe-to-toe with Gibney. Otherwise, this is thought-provoking and a daring expose that probably would have never seen the light of day had it been made at the church's height. Certainly, as they continue to lose influence, the next few years will likely provide us with even more revelations about the way they conduct themselves, but until then GOING CLEAR is absolutely comprehensive and a must see.

Extra Tidbit: GOING CLEAR opens in limited release this weekend, and premieres on HBO March 29th.
Source: JoBlo.com



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