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Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief



EmeterReleased: To be confirmed

Directed by: Alex Gibney

Starring: Lawrence Wright, Mike Rinder, Marty Rathburn

Certificate: 15

Reviewed by: Alex Smith

Let’s forget the horror stories. Let’s forget all of the conversations you’ve had with friends and family. Conversations like, “Have you heard of Scientology?” “Wait, isn’t that what Tom Cruise is into?” Let’s forget all of the incendiary press. The bizarre videos. The sensational headlines. The eccentric celebs. Let’s forget it. All of it.

Now, where do we begin our research of the “real” Scientology? Not the version portrayed by the media, nor the one ridiculed by pop culture. The real Scientology.

The answer is simple: watch Going Clear. This is, by far, the single most concise account of Scientology ever produced on film. This is the Scientology you’ve heard of in the past, but never dared to acknowledge. And nothing can prepare you for what you’re about to learn.

Much like the religion itself, Going Clear beggars belief. Director Alex Gibney reveals an institution that’s so immoral, so corrupt and so downright perverse, that some scenes will have you reeling in horror. The labour camps. The torture facilities. The indoctrination centres for children. Almost all of it is too disturbing to comprehend. And yet you sit there; slack-jawed and wide-eyed. And you watch. You are, in a word, transfixed, as if you were staring into a great abyss that, with each passing moment, might pull you further and further into its depths.

You’ll be exposed to moral degradation on a systematic scale. You’ll bear witness to abusive bullying and rampant corruption. You’ll learn of senior members quite literally grooming an actress for Tom Cruise’s amusement. All of it is utterly horrifying. And, at the same time, it’s impossible to look away.

Andy Grieve’s editing is brutal. The organisation’s most nefarious deeds are, in turn, analysed, scrutinised and almost always backed up with evidence of some kind. In addition, many of the film’s bolder claims are corroborated by several, if not all, of its interviewees. In one unforgettable scene, we hear of a woman’s daring escape from a Scientologist “rehabilitation centre”. She endured day after day of abuse, choosing only to flee once she discovered her baby, first taken from her upon entering the camp, unattended in a urine-soaked crib. A build up of mucus had rendered her temporarily blind, and all the camps’ cribs, including her own, were plagued with swarms of fruit flies.

As hard as they are to sit through, these recollections are fascinating. Gibney gathers subjects from various strata of the Scientologist hierarchy. Disturbingly, they all share the same hollow-eyed gaze. Each is, in their own way, unique. And yet they all share the same signs of trauma, the same telltale signs of sleep loss and paranoia. They’re like survivors of an unseen war: triumphant, but at the same time, haunted.

Going Clear is a revelation. After years of secrecy, we finally have a film that lifts the veil on an organisation that is, by all accounts, hiding in plain sight. As the film attests, Scientology has grown into a powerful global enterprise. So powerful, in fact, that in 1993 it managed to get the I.R.S to drop a 25-year claim that recognised the organisation as a commercial enterprise, not a religion. For what purpose? Because religious institutions are tax-exempt, of course.

As for today, Scientology boasts more than 10 million members and $3 billion in real estate assets all over the world. It is an absurd, shocking reality; one that shares more in common with a Hollywood screenplay than it does with our own wider society. But the crusade marches on all the same.


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