Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Going Clear intimately profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, shining a light on how they attract true believers and the things they do in the name of religion.

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  • ★★★½ review by Ben Hasler on Letterboxd

    The best, most sincere cinematic endeavor that Paul Haggis has ever been involved with.

  • ★★★½ review by Nathan Rabin on Letterboxd

    I'm glad I saw this before I signed my billion year contract with Scientology. Really got me out of a bind. Thanks, Alex!

  • ★★★★ review by Hollie Horror on Letterboxd

    I knew very little about Scientology before watching this documentary, so I found it absolutely fascinating. Unexpectedly, I came away from Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief feeling incredibly sorry for John Travolta, sincerely. I have also developed a want/need to check out The Master, when three years ago I had no interest in watching it.

  • ★★★★ review by CinemaClown on Letterboxd

    An incredibly captivating, thoroughly entertaining & downright unnerving documentary that deconstructs the inner-working of the Church of Scientology, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is an in-depth look at its history, its rise from a cult organisation to new religious movement, its belief system, the role of celebrities who are part of it, and the long-standing allegations of psychological abuse & exploitation that occur within the church.

    Using archive footages & interviews from former Scientologists who describe their very own experiences when they were part of it, the story of Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is told in three segments. The first part follows these ex-members as they recount how they came across it. The second gives a brief overview of Scientology and also skims through the life of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. And the final act brings forth the dark stuff & ruthless measures the church takes to silence any criticism.

    Written & directed by Alex Gibney, Going Clear is riveting from the first frame to the last and only gets more unsettling as the plot progresses. While it inclines more towards uncovering the disturbing secrets of this new religion that still remains shrouded in mystery, it also says a lot about the absurdity & dangers of blind faith, as evident in every religion, and illustrates how people are manipulated into joining these belief systems that promises a solution to all their problems but soon begins to strangle them with its entrapment.

    Although what it offers is clearly a one-sided perspective, it looks as if it’s got enough data to support its claims against the Church of Scientology. Almost every argument it puts forth feels like a result of endless research & extensive investigation and the various accusations made by its interviewees, comprising mostly of former members of the church, gives those existing rumours an added weight. While it certainly sheds more light on things that usually don’t get to see the light of day, much of it can still be applied to every religion in existence.

    However, what makes Going Clear such an intriguing sit isn’t the content it has in store but how all of it is presented to the unsuspecting & curious audience. It’s informative, in a way, to people who aren’t much familiar with this new religious movement but it’s also one damn good entertainment, something only few documentaries ever manage to excel at. The story also addresses the roles famous celebrities like John Travolta & Tom Cruise have played in promoting the religion and the special treatment the church bestows them with in order to keep them around.

    From a technical standpoint, there isn’t really anything to complain about this documentary. It’s crafted with a razor-sharp intent, seems to have done all the background check before making its accusations, the re-enactment sequences may seem a bit exaggerated but then, it is as per the ex-members’ confessions, more or less. Its three segment narrative gives it a more refined & easy-to-follow structure, Editing is definitely one of its biggest strengths and the interviews with these former Scientologists is wholly engrossing. And much of it is made possible by Gibney’s impeccable direction.

    On an overall scale, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is a masterly crafted, cleverly assembled & ingeniously narrated film about one of the most controversial topics in the present world. As revelatory as it is enthralling, this picture has the charged intensity of a thriller and considering the Church of Scientology’s notoriety for filing lawsuits against its critics, it’s truly a bold piece of documentary filmmaking that does exactly what it set out to do plus the blatant criticism it received from the church prior to its release only helped in providing it the publicity it required. A powerful, discomforting & spellbinding exposé, Going Clear comes strongly recommended.

  • ★★★★ review by Calib McBolts on Letterboxd

    If the stories surrounding and about Scientology would form the basis of a post-apocalyptic/science fiction thriller it would be panned for being too ridiculous; An utterly terrifying and disgusting authoritarian cult—that calls itself a religious; which is a blatant insult to every actual religion out there—filled with brainwashed, psychopathic megalomaniacs in a revealing documentary that consistently baffles its audience that it actually exists.

    A much longer review than normal. Apologies. This subject really got me riled up.

    Yesterday I was catching up on some videos of 'The Late Show with Stephen Colbert', and a video named: 'Leah Remini Argues That Scientology Isn't A Religion' got recommend to me. I had never paid much attention to Scientology so I had no real interest in watching that video, but as you do on Youtube, you watch it anyway. After that I entered a wormhole of Scientology related videos of ex-members exposing the cult for what it is. I was baffled, shocked, heartbroken at everything I learned. I even got scary anti-Leah Remini Scientology advertisements before some videos. What kind of horrifying joke 'religion' is this?

    I heard stories about members who planned their 'escape' for months, that sounded like they attempted to flee from North-Korea. Stories about the wife of the leader that has been missing for 10 years. Stories about the inner-workings that made it sound like a dictatorial Nazi/Communist regime, a terrifying microcosm of power abuse, blackmailing, deceit and hatred, built like a lucrative pyramid scheme. The supporting organisations that feel like slave labor camps that are made solely to accommodate top-members by workers who get paid less than 50 dollars a week. Scientology's power is a testament to raw greed and ruthlessness. Then I learned of this documentary, and saw that it was on Netflix, so it was only right to see this too . . .

    My spine is tingling, my palms are sweaty and my two feet are numb. I just can't believe this is an organization exists. The sick twisted destruction of human character, the scaring of its members into submission, the deep-rooted evil coercion tactics and manipulation of people who leave and outside entities, and down right torture of human beings is indicative of something horrifying, and not worthy of being called a 'Church'.

    Alex Gibney has masterfully put together this shocking document by using a classic interview-style bolstered by stock-footage and visual recreations. It's a two-hour film that flies by because of its headlong pacing and nimble editing. It's crafted with a razor-sharp intent, seems to have done all the background check before making its accusations, and the result is astonishing. It is clearly told in three segments. The first part follows these ex-members as they recount how they came across it. The second gives a brief overview of Scientology and also skims through the life of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. And the final act brings forth the dark stuff & ruthless measures the church takes to silence any criticism.

    It's riveting from the first frame to the last and only gets more unsettling as the plot progresses. While it inclines more towards uncovering the disturbing secrets of this new religion that still remains shrouded in mystery, it also says a lot about the absurdity & dangers of blind faith, as evident in every religion, and illustrates how people are manipulated into joining these belief systems that promises a solution to all their problems but soon begins to strangle them with its entrapments.

    It covers a ton of ground. From how Hubbard made it all up, how Scientologists are fooled, horrendously manipulated to give up all of their friends, family and money, how the IRS was bullied into giving Scientology a tax exempt-status—which means that US citizens actually pay some of their tax to subsidize Scientology. Stories surrounding Tom Cruise (who normally in interviews always looks so caring and nice, but in videos related to Scientology he looks and acts like a total insane paranoid schizophrenic), John Travolta, how David Miscavige has carried the torch following the death of Hubbard, and how defecting members are hounded and treated by Scientologists, by order from the very top. This is all truly harrowing, horrible and heartrending stuff, and you'll be incented and engulfed by the very first frame.

    On my "Movies That Made Me Cry" list

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