Movie Review - Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Alex Gibney adapted this documentary from the book by Lawrence Wright, which criticizes Scientology and exposes some arguably unethical, if not illegal tactics. It starts with a biography of the founder and creator of Scientology, the late L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard was a prolific and record-breaking author who had a penchant for science-fiction. His best-seller Dianetics formed the basis of this enterprise and it's fascinating to see basically a new religion form in a modern era, and how quixotic or how crazy Hubbard had to be to do it.

However, this film isn't how interesting a process that was. It's also not about how astounding a character Hubbard was. Wright's book might have had a more objective tone, but the general judgment here is that people should avoid Scientology, leave it or speak out against it. Certainly, horror stories about people like Nazanin Boniadi and from people like Spanky Taylor make the case.

Paul Haggis starts off the movie and he is probably the most, high-profile person in Hollywood speaking against Scientology. Haggis is the Oscar-winning filmmaker of Crash (2005). Yet, his biggest complaints are that Scientology's creation myth is weird, that the church asked him for a lot of money and that it's ultimately anti-gay.

Those complaints though are not any different than if Haggis were a member of a Christian church, particularly a Catholic church, and the Catholic church has its sex abuse scandal where it covered up the fact that its priests were sexually molesting, if not outright raping altar boys and other children.

Not to defend Scientology but it doesn't have anything even close to that! This movie does expose abuses, physical abuses associated with Scientology's Sea Organization. No sexual assault but people were physically abused! It's not to say which is worse, but I don't see much difference between Scientology and other religions like Catholicism or Islam. Maybe Gibney's point is that all religions are bad and crazy and this is just another example, but no one here ever makes that point outright.

This documentary won three Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special. It played in theaters earlier in the year but was mainly an HBO presentation. With its re-appearance in theaters this past September, HBO is perhaps priming the pump for the film to get into the Oscars. HBO recently had success with its documentary Citizenfour (2014), which won the Oscar for Best Documentary as well as the Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. HBO thinks maybe it can copy that same success.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended R for language and brief nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 59 mins.


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