Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Film Review - Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

Copyright: HBO Documentary Films
For a religion that believes in weird aliens and events that include dropping nuclear bombs into volcanoes full of dead bodies 70 million years ago, Scientology can sure be much grounded in the present time and things like lawsuits and harassment.

In this documentary by Alex Gibney, the same religion/corporation/cult is shown through the perspective of those who have left it over the years. While this might seem like a narrative which offers only a single vantage point to an issue, as the documentary proceeds, it becomes clear why David Miscavige, Tom Cruise and all others who might represented Scientology declined to appear in the film.

Generally, Scientology can be perceived as a single man’s desire to find wealth, power and personal emotional and psychological healing through the same endeavor. This man is L. Ron Hubbard, a sci-fi writer who transformed his fiction into pseudo-psychotherapy, and then transformed it into a religion.

While the tone of the film is very somber and dark, everything about Hubbard to me seem really uplifting and energetic, in spite of his obvious serious mental issues. Here, the documentary shines in depicting an emotionally extremely unbalanced person making up total nonsense and then channeling it into a system to be sold to others.

The same system gradually becomes a corporation worth many billions of US dollars, masked in a religion (mainly for tax purposes). As the history of Scientology begins to unravel over the years, so do different characters begin to enter the fold. They all became part of the same religion at some point in their life, but then decided to get out for different reasons, which can be boiled down to insanity of the original creation tale and the tyrannical relationships that became a regular occurrence inside of Scientology hierarchy. The film juggles these stories really well, producing an overarching idea that there is something seriously wrong with the entire Scientology deal.

For me, the most fascinating thing about the entire documentary is the fact how Scientology simply sucks in anything resembling PR. Instead of taking some pointers from Coca-Cola, the Vatican or any other large corporation on the planet, David Miscavige and the rest of the top Scientology circle decided to make up their own system for combating any dissent. For them, there is obviously no soft approach or making an effort to absorb the blows. The only way to combat those who disagree with them is to fight them, internally and externally. At the same time, their assets and revenue stream continued to grow. The result is a strange group of people wielding so much money and power that they could truly present a global danger.

Fortunately, thanks to the fact that their belief system is so fundamentally weird, even for religious standards, they do not have it in them to communicate their message to a broader audience, especially one that does not have any substantial amounts of money (the poor masses have always been the top audience for a growing religion). Instead, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief show they have the power to really mess up individual lives, but even that seems to be dwindling.

Great thing about documentaries like is the fact that they are extremely entertaining and really do provide valuable insight that will probably help some people to say to their potential Scientology recruiters that they are not interested in becoming a new paying customer for their cult corporation.