“The only way to make any real money was to have a religion.”
Typically, the things in this world most difficult to define are emotions. Love, happiness, sadness. The personal and subjective inner-repsonses shaped by our individual life experience. So why does religion fall into that category? Why can’t we precisely narrow down the difference between religion and cult, between spirituality and magic? Maybe there is no definition, just as there is no taste to water. It’s just there. In Going Clear, we are presented with a one-sided argument against the merits and good intentions of those blindly led into the jet-fueled fires of Scientology. Not since 2006’s Jesus Camp, another faith-based documentary, have I seen such deeply ingrained brainwashing take place. The purpose of Scientology and all religions may be to better oneself. However, Going Clear drained my optimism, replacing it with an anger and rage in the pit of my stomach. Belief can indeed be a prison.
Based on the non-fiction book written by Lawrence Wright, Going Clear is right up there with the most informative and all-access documentaries I have ever seen. The amount of information is astounding, but never overwhelming, thanks to the expert direction and editing by Alex Gibney and his team. One by one we’re introduced to the main interviewees, all involved in Hollywood, followed by once crucial figures in the church who have disbanded themselves. There’s Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis, longtime character actor Jason Beghe, and Sylvia Taylor, the former liaison to Scientology poster boy John Travolta. What Going Clear does best is fluidly explain the process of being a Scientologist, its history, and all of the lingo and terms that we’ve never heard before. It’s incredible just how intelligible it makes an incomprehensible way of life.
Early on we’re told, “To understand Scientology, you have to understand the life and mind of its inventor L. Ron Hubbard.” That’s the only unarguable and unbiased statement given throughout. Hubbard was a deeply troubled man, dealing with his increasingly disturbed psychosis by creating his own reality. And he wrote constantly, mostly science fiction, at a breakneck pace (he holds the Guinness World Record for the most published work at 1,084). His creativity was matched by his salesmanship and hunger for a dollar, forming a pyramid scheme to lure in vulnerable individuals and ease them along a pay-for-advancement through the ranks of the “religious” organization. Many pundits say Scientology was Hubbard’s attempt at rationalizing his own problems. And you’ll be left wondering if he knew the ramifications of his decisions, as well as the god-like idolatry to follow him postmortem. It’s the worshipping of a mad man.
Filling in the shoes of Hubbard was David Miscavige, an equally unsettling figure, placing his focus on the business side of Scientology rather than Hubbard’s unscientific approach to psychology. Miscavige is a power-mongering cretin, a charismatic and deceptively charming man willing to do and say whatever he can to stay on top and to burn holes in the pockets of his following. Going Clear is never afraid to show its intentions, one of which is defacing Miscavige and numerous followers. He was known to abuse employees every way possible. The of late creepy and tongue twisted Travolta is shown as an unwilling member eventually conditioned by Big Brother into lifelong solidarity. And Tom Cruise, the worldwide face of the movement, is painted as a disillusioned, privileged, out of touch with humanity lunatic. Seriously, some of the background we get on the lives of past members and the stars we worship on-screen will forever change the way you look at them, both in their profession and personal lives. Disturbing doesn’t even begin to describe it.
As shown, Scientology is a bait and switch arrangement. You don’t go into this religion knowing exactly what to believe in or what to expect. That doesn’t come until you’ve already forked over thousands of dollars and sacrificed countless hours to learn the cockamamie origins of the overlord Xenu (look it up or watch the movie. Either way it’s just as hard to not laugh at). Going Clear shows a sycophantic group preying upon the weak, exhibiting structural corruption and an eagerness to retaliate against SP’s (suppressive persons…those anti-Scientology). This is a near perfect film save for two faults. Gibney had the opportunity to disclose Scientology’s wrongdoings while also speaking to the appeal and crossover likeness of the world’s most prominent religions. He doesn’t do that, and the narrow focus fails to speak to a much broader and universal topic. Secondly, with such an exacting vision, you expect Going Clear to end with a mind-blowing revelation proving its thesis. Instead it curtails like an appointment with a psychiatrist who prematurely says, “Times up, see you next week.”
Towards the end of the film a past member of the church tells us a heartbreaking story. She’s a mother and chooses to leave after being told – not asked – to sever ties with her son. Meanwhile, her other child and only daughter refused to leave the religion. The daughter says, “I have to disconnect from you.” You see the pain and anguish in the mother’s eyes. I had a similar event happen to me years ago. I’m technically a non-practicing Catholic, although I’d say that I have no religious affiliation. Not that I’m against religion; I simply realized that I am capable of being a good person and human without adhering to a singular set of dogma. The axiom that I live by was stolen from a song, and so far it’s worked me. Love all, serve all, and create no sorrow. Simple yet effective. So when my late Grandmother, a lifelong Catholic and all-around loving person, found out I was no longer practicing, she told me that I was not the same boy she once knew. She eventually came to change her mind, but as Going Clear’s full title indicates, even the best of us can fall victim to misguided belief and the life sentence it serves.
“Can you recall a time when you were happy?
Rating: 4.5 out of 5