Monday, April 6, 2015

Now on HBO: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015); Written and Directed by Alex Gibney.

By Kenny Howell

If you don't know anything about the inner workings of Scientology, then Going Clear is probably going to make your head explode.

Director Alex Gibney, working from the book by Lawrence Wright, is very detailed in his scathing take down of the religious institution populated by big stars like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. He interviews former members who claim to have been beaten, forced to work for less than a dollar an hour, separated from their families, and many other activities that seem ridiculous in this day in age if they are true.

The large majority of the focus is on the current Scientology leader, David Miscavige, but the most interesting part of the film comes in the profiles of L. Rob Hubbard, the religion's creator. It's not every day a science fiction writer starts his own religion, especially one that became a worldwide phenomenon, and Hubbard's roots are peculiar indeed. It's hard to see what people saw in him in the little bit of archival footage used in the film. He's bizarre, working his mouth weirdly over the beliefs while he talks to reporters about his book, Dianetics, and the religion's core beliefs. Members talked about how they would do anything for him, so there is obviously some magnetism in him, but it definitely doesn't come across like Philip Seymour Hoffman's somewhat portrayal of him in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. He was a Navy man, was associated with a black arts occult, and wrote over 1,000 books during his lifetime. In the black arts occult, he worked along with rocket scientist Jack Parsons to create some kind of "sex magic" that they hoped would create the Antichrist. I am pretty sure that never happened, but it's just one of the few weird tidbits about Hubbard early life.

As the movie progresses, we meet people who have left the church, including writer-director Paul Haggis (Crash). They recount the horrors of the church where they were exposed to the bizarre origin story of the religion, which includes a galactic leader putting evil spirits in a volcano a long time ago in a time where people dressed like it was 1950, and there was overpopulation (or something like that). From there, there is accusations of assault, locking people in trailers to be abused, separating of families, and other horrible things.

If you already know a lot about this story, the movie might not be as explosive as it is to others, but it is still quite good. Gibney is thorough, and has lots of information to back up the claims. I would have liked to spent more time with Hubbard and his life, but knowing that information is scarce, Gibney has crafted a fine look at the controversial church.

Rating: ***1/2

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