VOD film review: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Footage of Tom Cruise looking worryingly deranged9
Cause for concern10
Ian Loring | On 21, Sep 2015
Director: Alex Gibney
Cast: Paul Haggis, Mike Rinder, Jason Beghe
Watch Going Clear online in the UK: Sky On Demand / NOW / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
Managing to make it to UK shores after legal challenges and a fair bit of controversy, Alex Gibney potentially bit off more than he could chew with Going Clear, going up against the Church of Scientology, which, as this film shows, will attack anyone who dares question it.
Scientology has been played largely as a figure of derision in pop culture but Gibney seeks to show the dark side here, how it controls people and ruins lives, despite essentially being started as a way of writing off tax. Gibney’s sprawling documentary takes in a lot in a little less than 2 hours but it is never less than enthralling.
Unlike his recent work Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine, which felt a little too “hit piece” to really land its punches, Going Clear is obvious in its aims but does show how Scientology can be attractive. Although it’s well known now, the concept of Xenu and the back story behind Scientology was previously something people were informed of after going up a fair few levels within the church; before that point, it essentially takes the form of a kind of new age version of psychiatry, delving into the cause of someone’s mental strife and then essentially deleting it. It is shown in the film that this individual element is both appealing to people and also pretty successful; to accuse Going Clear of being myopic is misguided.
That said, when the film gets its teeth into the negative aspects, it doesn’t let go.
The concept of when a religion is not a religion is a fascinating one and is tackled full on by Gibney. Despite protests to the contrary, it is made abundantly clear that the only God this religion prays to is the dollar bill. Gibney sources some incredible footage of arenas full of people celebrating winning a battle against the IRS, fully grown people going absolutely frenzied over the thought of their donations being free of tax – it is staggering, disturbing stuff and, along with Gibney’s investigations into just how insidious Scientology is becoming in the world of real estate (swallowing up expensive properties all over the world) Gibney argues that rather than laughing at Scientology, we should in fact be very worried about it.
As well as all this talk about money, Gibney wisely pays a lot of attention to the more human tragedies Scientology can cause. While Paul Haggis is probably the biggest name of the talking heads here, he isn’t the most effective. Upsetting stories are told of “disconnection”, where people who leave the church are essentially ostracised for doing so and are harassed at their doorsteps day and night for daring to speak out against the church. Gibney also wisely takes himself out of the picture for much of the documentary, his usual predilection for framing the narrative around questions he has removed to let the interviewees and archive footage tell the story for him.
Going Clear is a tremendously worrying documentary, which reminds us that while we may find Scientology silly, we do not take it seriously at our peril.
Going Clear is available to watch on Sky On Demand. Non-Sky customers can watch Going Clear live online legally through NOW for £7.99 a month, contract-free.