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

Posted: April 10, 2015 in Documentary


Filmmaker Alex Gibney and writer Lawrence Wright document the founding and teachings of Scientology.

L. Ron Hubbard was a prolific science-fiction writer during the Depression. He founded his own religion Scientology, based on his book Dianetics, published in 1950.  A key pillar of Scientology is constant auditing or questioning of adherents and the use of electronic meters to delve into and resolve inner problems.    Because Scientology was not recognized as a religion in the 1960’s, Hubbard spent a lot of time on ships to avoid tax evasion charges.  He created the sea org to man the ships, they became the upper echelons of scientology who signed billion year contracts to stay with scientology.  As they rose through the ranks, followers learned the creation story of scientology Scientology, and it was something straight out of Hubbard’s science fiction story. What Gibney does well is demystify and demythologize scientology.  If a viewer wonders ‘who is L. Ron Hubbard’, ‘what is scientology’, this documentary lays it all out.

David Miscavige took over when Hubbard died, he started out as a cameraman for Hubbard and ruthlessly worked his way to the top of a trillion dollar empire.  In 1993, Miscavige won tax exempt status for scientology, and earlier recruited stars like Tom Cruise to join the ranks of scientology.  Cruise was pampered with fancy houses and fully detailed cars.  When Cruise’s wife Nicole Kidman was deemed a threat to Scientology, because her father was a psychologist, trouble was stirred between the couple, and a divorce ensued.  A Scientologist girlfriend was groomed for Cruise, Nazanin Boniandi, but she and Miscavige didn’t get along, so she was quickly dismissed.

What this documentary does extremely well is talk to former Scientologists and document how they got caught up in scientology, and how scientology became so all-encompassing a part of their lives that they cannot leave, not only can’t they leave, they can’t read anything negative about scientology.  If they did manage to get themselves extricated from Scientology, the retribution was merciless.  Websites would pop up with scandalous rumors about the person who left, with information gleaned from their auditing sessions.  Finally one of the former scientologists’ wives sued Scientologists, the case is still ongoing.  Membership in scientology is dropping and there is no big star like Cruise used to be to draw new members in.

What this film doesn’t do well is give the viewer a sense of completeness, of closure.  It ends abruptly in the middle of reporting about Monique Rathbun’s lawsuit against Scientology and it gives no updates about the lawsuit, or any of the main players who are still a part of scientology, that is frustrating.

It is worth seeing this documentary, because it opens a window on a religion, founded by someone who asked for and never received mental help, and whose members are trapped in nothing less than a cult, and subjected to numerous and repeated  acts of physical and emotional assault, and degradation.  It is horrifying.  It seems to me like a cult of personality, with Hubbard and now Miscavige as the leaders.

L.Ron Hubbard hides many secrets in his cupboard


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