Saturday, April 04, 2015

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Based on the book by Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is a film about the history of the church of Scientology and the secrets behind its cult where it features top celebrities such as Tom Cruise as its public spokesperson. Written and directed by Alex Gibney, the film is a look into the world of Scientology as former members of the cult speak out about their experiences and the abuse they suffered during their time as Scientologists as Gibney and Sherry Stringfield narrate the controversy surrounding the church. The result is one of the most harrowing films about one of the most controversial religions and its methods.

The film explores not just Scientology’s vast history under the founding of L. Ron Hubbard but also into how it would expand into a worldwide phenomenon. Yet, it’s rise to power has been a controversial one as several people who were part of the church finally speak out about what goes on including those who were at the church from its inception to its battle with the IRS in the late 80s/early 90s for tax exemption and beyond. It’s a film that explores not just the life of L. Ron Hubbard but also his motivation to create this movement after World War II as it would evolve into something bigger. Following his death of a stroke in 1986, Scientology would be under the control of his longtime assistant David Miscavige who wouldn’t just make the religion bigger but also attract more controversy.

Through interviews from filmmaker Paul Haggis, actor Jason Beghe, former church leader Mark Rathbun, former office of special affairs head Mike Rinder, former publicist to John Travolta in Sylvia “Spanky” Taylor, and three other former Scientologists in Tom DeVocht, Sara Goldberg, and Hana Eltringham. The individuals who are interviewed for the film not only reveal a lot about the church’s methods and its teachings but also the demands that is laid upon them. Some of which reveal not just all of these levels that they have to do in order to be respected by its methods but also in how it affects people and their judgment towards one another. There’s also stories about what goes on in the world of Scientology and what happens when things go wrong as some of them reveal the dire consequences they have to face.

Among these stories involve Spanky’s time working for Travolta and her own punishment and abuse that she suffered in the church in the early 80s where her 10-month old daughter was also taken away by the church. All because she wanted to help her ailing boss by taking him to the hospital with some medication as she would eventually escape the church with her baby and would be gone from Scientology for good. It is among a series of stories where it might seem bizarre in some respects but it is quite startling into how several followers are forced to disconnect with loved ones who don’t share their views. Especially as it relates to reasons into why Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise split up as Kidman’s father was a respected psychologist in Australia and Scientology saw that as a threat.

Alex Gibney keeps things straightforward while he allows archival footage of L. Ron Hubbard and David Miscavige to be used to tell their story along with rare interviews from John Travolta and Tom Cruise. While Miscavige, Cruise, and Travolta refuse to do interviews for the film, another individual that is interviewed is the novelist Lawrence Wright whose book is what the film is based on. Wright definitely brings his views on religion as he wanted to cover Scientology and its history on a fair basis but revealed a lot of things that definitely got him in trouble but managed to get his book out. Gibney’s direction also has elements of exotic inserts that features a lot of stock footage, dramatic interpretations, and other things that do pop up yet it plays into this mysticism that revolves around Scientology.

With the help of cinematographer Sam Painter, Gibney brings a unique visual style to the film as it’s straightforward but also evocative as he gives those he interviews a chance to feel comfortable. With some straightforward editing by Andy Grieve who also provide some stylish montage for some of the dramatic reinterpretations and stock footage as well as some sparse yet eerie sound design work by Bill Chesley. Gibney does also go for some style in some of the myths that play into Scientology through some visual effects based footage with the help of visual effects supervisors Steve Mottershead and Tamir Sapir. Adding to the film’s dramatic tone is the music of Will Bates who brings a somber yet disconcerting score that is largely driven by keyboards to play into some of the terror that looms over Scientology.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is a phenomenal film from Alex Gibney. Not only is it one of the most compelling films about faith but also into a religious organization that does basically the opposite of what other religions do which is provide some sort of salvation. It’s a film that manages to ask some big questions while talking to those who were part of it as they reveal some dark truths into the works of a dangerous cult. In the end, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is a sensational film from Alex Gibney.

© thevoid99 2015


Dell said...

This sounds like a fascinating doc. I know they're controversial and that a number of celebrities are into it, but I don't really know anything about it. I'll definitely see this at some point. Great review.

Ruth said...

Oh I really want to see this. Gibney is a great documentarian, and the subject matter is definitely an intriguing one.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-See it as soon as possible. Otherwise, those crazy Scientologists will try and brainwash you.

@ruth-It's currently on HBO (although for how long) as it plays into things that will disgust you.

Brittani Burnham said...

This doc was fascinating. L. Ron is insane. I knew he lied about his military career and what not, but I didn't realize just how awful this guy really was.

I thought Travolta looked almost hypnotized when he was talking about Scientology in those archived interviews. It was unsettling. Great review!

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Thanks. L. Ron is a moron and an asshole. If those crazy Scientologists do read my review and want to sue me. Go ahead, it's just going to make them look worse than they already are.