Director Alex Gibney (The Armstrong Lie) gives an expose of the controversial religion in Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. The Church of Scientology was formed in the 1950s by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. The church has become infamous for its controversial methods and celebrity members, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Eight former Scientologists, including former second-in-command Mark Rathbun, filmmaker Paul Haggis, and actor Jason Beghe, talk about their experiences with the religion and why they decided to leave.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is a documentary based on the book of the same name by Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright. The film gives a basic history of Scientology, while also providing an expose of the religion’s controversial practices, as told by the eight central interviewees. Scientology is undoubtedly a highly interesting subject matter, however Alex Gibney presents the information in a relatively straight-forward fashion, which resulted in the film to being sometimes a bore to watch, particularly during the first half.
The film gets somewhat more interesting when it gets to its real goal, which is exposing Scientology for what it truly is. From using multiple lawsuits to get the IRS to legally declare it a religion or constant instances of abuse, there is a dark truth beneath Scientology’s public face. At the forefront of it all is the church’s reclusive leader David Miscavige, who has been in charge of Scientology since L. Ron Hubbard’s death in 1986.
The of course there is Scientology’s most famous member Tom Cruise. Going Clear features a whole section about Cruise’s involvement with Scientology, which has greatly increased in the last fifteen years. The film makes accusations that Scientology was behind Tom Cruise’s divorce with Nicole Kidman, as well as trying to “manufacture” a new girlfriend for Cruise. Undoubtedly, the section about Tom Cruise was the most interesting part of Going Clear and I wish the rest of the film was just as intriguing.
When it comes down to it, there is nothing all that wrong about Going Clear, which is pretty competent at saying what Scientology is and what is wrong with it. However, the film doesn’t really go much deeper than that and I found a good chunk of the film to be quite boring to watch. I would say that overall, I will give this documentary a very mild recommendation and I would probably say that it would probably be better to just read the book that the film is based on.★ ★ ★ 1/2 | FAIR