FILM by by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
RPL Film Theatre
It has been a while since Scientology entered the collective subconscious, mostly thanks to de facto spokesmen Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Whether because of the church’s sci-fi fundamentals or controlling ways, public opinion has seldom been on Scientology’s side — a trend that only grows stronger with every bizarre new revelation.
The documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is vintage Alex Gibney: thorough, incisive, clear. The problem is that there’s little new information in it for someone who’s reasonably well informed — for example, Paul Haggis’ 2011 New Yorker interview covered the church’s problems quite comprehensively.
A movement created by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the early ’50s, Scientology’s growth hasn’t been entirely faith-related. Managed as a commercial enterprise, the cult has acquired property around the world over the years and now its assets amount to tax-free (“religious status”) billions.
Gibney — whose previous efforts include Enron, Mea Maxima Culpa and We Steal Secrets — has a couple of aces under his sleeve, namely former high-ranked Scientologists willing to share the religion’s most questionable practices (severing ties with “suppressive people”, harassing former members.) Wisely, the filmmaker avoids criticizing the church’s rudiments to focus on its toxic practices, which have gone from eccentric to downright vindictive, even illegal.
Going Clear dedicates special attention to David Miscavige. Scientology’s chairman and Hubbard’s former assistant is portrayed as a venal, secretive individual, prone to buying his way out of trouble. From manipulating the judicial system to finding potential partners for high-profile members, Miscavige is more “involved” than most religious heads. His immediate subordinates enjoy the perks of their position (free labor!), but also physical abuse.
With the number of loyalists dwindling and the IRS sniffing around it’s clear Scientology is a fading threat, but that doesn’t make its doings any more palatable.