Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, dir/wr. Alex Gibney, based on Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright, st. Lawrence Wright, Mark Rathbun, Monique Rathbun, Mike Rinder, Jason Beghe, Paul Haggis, Sylvia Taylor, Sara Goldberg
A concise and incisive deconstruction of the Church of Scientology, Going Clear made near-surfable waves when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The film then went on to be HBO's most successful documentary for almost a decade when the cable network screened it in March. Meanwhile, over in the UK, sole distributor of HBO content Sky Atlantic is unable to exhibit Gibney's film due to geographical legal discrepancies within Sky's transmission zone, and the Church has already made clear its litigious intentions should the broadcast to go ahead. Interestingly and alarmingly, it's already successfully blocked publication in the UK of the source material (although it is available through Amazon). The real terror in Gibney's film isn't in Scientology's established reputation as a criminal cult, the surreal lunacy and paranoid fanaticism of its leader, science-fiction writer Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, it's not even in the suspicious and rather embarrassing lengths the Church goes to to exercise total control over its reputation by ceaselessly going after its innumerable detractors, neither is it in the wide-eyed, thousand-yard-stares of its leader David Miscavige and the Church's A-list poster-boys John Travolta and Tom Cruise. No, the most terrifying thing about Going Clear is how Scientology ever made it as far as it has. Initially lured into the organisation with promises of enlightenment, adventure, or betterment, the voices of Gibney's film - mostly people formerly in prominent positions within the Church - impart torrents of recollected abuse and suffering designed to ensure submission and control, and indeed, one might initially wonder at the genuine ability of the Church to psychologically imprison its members, but then there's nothing spurious about the organisation's bullying and intimidating tactics, nor is there any confusion over the nature of its rock-stadium rallies with their new-age, high-contrast set-designs that look like they're being hosted in fucking Isengard. Predictably then, Going Clear is essential viewing, a brave and defiant documentary about the very real and present dangers of unchecked indoctrination.