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.

  • ★★★½ review by Vanina on Letterboxd

    Although it's a well-constructed documentary, 'Going Clear' is obviously preaching to the converted. I don't expect any follower of Scientology will watch this. We can all clap each other on the back for not falling for it, we can make jokes about how terribly gaudy and cardboard the stage design at those assemblies is, but all in all, I feel the whole Scientology movement just stands for how lonely and terrified of their own minds people are.

    I'm a big proponent of psychiatry - therapy sessions and the right anti-anxiety medication have made the world of difference for me.

    Almost ten years ago, the travelling Scientology exhibition on psychiatry came to Amsterdam and I went to see it. It was a pretty terrifying experience. The whole exhibition area was completely dark and all the "evidence" they used (from medieval torture devices used on the "insane" to affecting stories of people who killed themselves when on anti-depressants) was presented with little to no context, all to give you the idea that psychiatry is making money off of the lost and weary, exploiting the most vulnerable. 'Going Clear', within its first 15 minutes, shows you that's more the Scientology modus operandi.

    I think it's incredibly interesting that Hubbard's book 'Dianetics' was first a best-seller in the early 1950s - it immediately made me think of that early boom of self-help and social science books, like David Riesman's 'The Lonely Crowd'. My favourite university module I've taken was on the popularity of those books in 20th century America, and I would be interested to see how 'Dianetics' compares to those books. The popularity of books like 'The Lonely Crowd', the Kinsey reports and 'The Authoritarian Personality' signify that America's book-buying public wanted to understand themselves and others better. From popular culture in the 1950s and early '60s, I imagine being in therapy to be a status symbol in those days, it was a pretty hip thing if Marilyn Monroe and others spoke so openly about it.

    One of the most shocking, depressing things about Scientology's enduring popularity is, to me, the fact that it's use of "auditing" is so inherently old-fashioned in the way it uses personal pain and shame to control people. Everyone has things from the past they feel incredibly shameful of, and I just want to shout to the world, "it's fine, you probably did the best you could!". Psychotherapy may have been fashionable in some circles, but talking about your fears and anxieties has never become socially acceptable. This has become Scientology's greatest weapon.

    The film and that exhibition back in 2007 made me hope that one day, people can talk openly about therapy, depression, shame, guilt, sadness, anxiety, disappointment, feeling lost, medication - all things associated with that world. Not talking about it only leads to more shame, and shame seems to be the key thing to exploit if you want to control vulnerable people.

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