Overview: Following the HBO documentary MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD, his investigation into sex abuse in the Catholic Church, Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney now turns his gaze to Scientology. In this documentary Gibney profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, whose most prominent adherents include A-list Hollywood celebrities, shining a light on how the church cultivates true believers, detailing their experiences and what they are willing to do in the name of religion. This powerful new film highlights the Church’s origins, from its roots in the mind of founder L. Ron Hubbard to its rise in popularity in Hollywood and beyond. The heart of the film is a series of shocking revelations by former insiders, including high-ranking and recognizable members such as acclaimed screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash), as they describe the systematic history of abuse and betrayal by Church officials, including the current leadership of the Church. It is a provocative tale of ego, exploitation and lust for power.
Expectations: There has been a hell of a hullabaloo swirling around this documentary. Of course, there would be. Anytime anyone attacks another’s belief system there is going to be controversy. No one of faith would take the attack lying down. Unfortunately, that is why there are terrorist attacks; there is an affront to someone’s beliefs that are taken to the extreme. I am, at least at this point, ignoring all of that. I have not been reading anything beyond the literal headlines. I want the documentary to tell its tale.
I confess I am ignorant of Scientology. I know no one who practices it; I know no one that knows anything about it, well, actually I have never cared to broach the topic with anyone to find out. I know this is going to be a one-sided viewpoint on the practices of the religion, a strongly negative viewpoint. I’m sure the positive viewpoint is out there too. I just have to wait to see how this documentary impacts me before I’ll venture to care what the other side has to say.
Alex Gibney is going in hot. Here is the trailer to set it all up.
Let me first offer a quick response to that short tease. It does not reveal very much at all. The words we hear must be sound bites from some of the former members of the Church. They set it up as something diabolical. The impression is clear from their descriptions that Scientology is a cult. I guess all this is best in context so I will continue this post upon watching GOING CLEAR.
Gut Reaction: WOW! That exclamation, as simple as it is, covers a lot of ground, but then so did this documentary. I apologize for the lateness of this post, many other outlets have had something out already, but I needed to take my time with it. I couldn’t watch it on its debut on Sunday and ended up catching it on HBOGo. I watched the first hour late Monday night and was pretty overwhelmed so I didn’t get to the last hour until Tuesday. Quite a bit is thrown at the viewer and it took me, anyway, a bit of time to process.
We are given the state of Scientology today; the rundown on the founder, L. Ron Hubbard, all the parlance, lingo and devices involved and also the testimonies of former members of the Church. Which brings us to the first WOW; it is a sensory overload. If I had to find fault with anything it was that GOING CLEAR was trying to tell us too much. Though it is vitally necessary to the piece, the history of Hubbard and his development of this unique belief system was a documentary of its own. Then we got “Dianetics,” “Thetans,” “Auditing,” “E-meters,” “Engrams,” “Supressive Persons,” “Potential Trouble Threats,” “The Bridge to Total Freedom” and more. Also in the mix is a cast of thousands. With trying to wrestle with all this I thought maybe Alex Gibney could have constructed this film a bit more cohesively.
WOW number two, is the oddity that is L. Ron Hubbard himself. Sorry, (who am I apologizing to here?) but he was one unstable person. It means people are following the original thoughts of an unstable person. It was great that Gibney was able to find such detail on the founder and even footage of interviews that show Hubbard’s true light. The next exclamation of WOW can come when we look at where Scientology is today complete with Tom Cruise and David Miscavige at the forefront. Hell, even the IRS backs down! Well, at least I’ll never be duped.
A viewer can learn a lot here it just might be a lot to take in all at once. From that make your own assessment of Scientology. You are given the testimony of former members, including higher echelon of the faith and on the other side you’re shown footage of those beholden to Hubbard. You can decide whether the rumbling cussing of Jason Beghe, the frantic speaking of “Spanky” Taylor, or the ranting of Miscavige. Personally I didn’t think Beghe was that effective. They should have had Leah Remini who defected in 2013) instead. After you take all that in then make a decision. You can even do a Google search for Scientology. It’s easy to do; the number one listing if you type in the name of this documentary is for a Scientology site.
I’ve made my decision and it is a rather clear cut one.
In Conclusion: In my evaluation of Scientology, which did not just include the GOING CLEAR documentary, but was prompted by it, I did some follow-up on sites including a detailed Wiki article. Simply put, Scientology is a cult that has gotten away with so much. I am not saying people cannot believe in what they wish, but don’t follow an abusive, manipulative, deceptive, moneymaking and power hungry travesty that is duping far too many people.
GOING CLEAR opened in theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco on Friday, March 13, prior to its HBO debut. It is written and directed by Alex Gibney; based on the book by Lawrence Wright; producers, Alex Gibney, Kristen Vaurio and Lawrence Wright; editor, Andy Grieve; director of photography, Samuel Painter. For HBO: supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.
It can still be seen on HBOGo plus on the following dates. 04.01 at 3:05am; 04.05 at 9:15am; 04.09 at 3:30pm; 04.11 at 1:45pm and 04.17 at 4:45pm.
About The Author
Editor at Large of HBOWatch.com and the internet's foremost HBO expert.