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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Movie Review: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)
Directed by Alex Gibney
***This film is currently available on HBO Now***

Lately, I've found myself really fascinated by the concept of Scientology.  As one of the talking heads in Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief mentions, I've been drinking the Kool Aid -- not of believing Scientology, however, but in watching people deconstruct the church's claims.  There's something incredibly impressive about this belief concept created by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard back in the 1950s with the writing of his book Dianetics and the fact that he (and current Chairman of the Board David Miscavige) have crafted something that forces believers to pay incredibly large sums of money in order to have access to the fundamental rules of the religion.  Sure, you may say that Catholics, as an example, donate to their Church as well, but (a) it's not mandatory, and (b) the Catholic religion doesn't refuse to talk to you about all aspects of its belief system if you don't pay up.  Seriously, the heads of Scientology have a good thing going in terms of raking in some dough.  That said, I'll refrain from discussing my views on Scientology itself and instead just state that Alex Gibney's documentary is a truly fascinating deep dive into this incredibly controlling religion.  (Yes, I'm well aware that some may consider all religions controlling to a certain respect, but I'm not sure that's an inherently bad thing as there's something to be said for religions creating a moralistic set of rules people tend to follow.)

Nevertheless, Going Clear is certainly a lambasting of Scientology and its unique nature.  Since the 1980s, Scientology has recruited many big names from entertainment into its realm -- Tom Cruise and John Travolta being the two biggest -- but there have also been quite a few who have broken away from the Church to speak out against it.  Here, director and 35-year Scientologist Paul Haggis breaks his silence, as does 13-year member actor Jason Beghe, both of whom discuss what they believe to be nefarious aspects of the religion.  However, filmmaker Alex Gibney makes sure that we're aware that Scientology wasn't just for celebs.  Tom de Vocht (right hand man to chairman David Miscavige) and Marty Rathburn (Miscavige's top lieutenant) were in the intimate circle at the high reaches of the Church and both recently left after years of abusing people personally (and being abused themselves) in order to carry out the whims of Miscavige.

There's no denying that Going Clear is one-sided, but until very recently (even after the release of this film), the Scientology community did not give interviews repudiating statements given by others going against the Church.  (That isn't to say that they didn't personally attack those who spoke out as is depicted in the documentary through a variety of methods...they just didn't do so publicly.)  This one-sided nature obviously doesn't tell the whole story, but it solidly depicts those opposed to the religion's somewhat seedy tactics.  The film goes on a little long (although it's definitely much more detailed than I expected which is appreciated at times) and it would've played a little better if we heard a bit from the pro-Scientology side of things, but it really is a fascinating glimpse at an unusual group.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

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