Sunday, April 5, 2015

Going Clear: Scientology Revealed

Going Clear premiered at the Sundance Film festival in January and created quite the stir. It finally premiered on HBO last Sunday so I could finally see what all the fuss about. With a combination of archival footage, interviews from former church members, and the brilliant investigative work by journalist Lawrence Wright for the novel this movie is based on, director Alex Gibney has created a chilling and searing indictment of this religion that has fascinated people for so many years.

The first half of Going Clear discusses the origins of the religion as devised by science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard. He published Dianetics, the book that would become Scientology's equivalent of the Bible, in 1950, and created a sensation that inspired people across the world to attend workshops and pay scads of money to achieve the various levels of enlightenment described by Hubbard in the book. While he may initially have devised this as a money-making venture, it seems like Hubbard fell for his own fantasies, becoming a megalomaniacal God-like figure who relied on the techniques that he made up to help him with his own mental problems and paranoia. He spent the latter years of his life in hiding, dodging the IRS over their claims of tax evasion, but never failing in his belief and support for this religious cult that he created out of thin air. 

The second half of the movie delves into the new direction taken by the organization, headed by Hubbard's successor, David Miscavige. This is where we get the revelations about John Travolta and Tom Cruise, Scientology's two most important celebrity spokespeople, and the ways in which the church has influenced and/or blackmailed them into supporting their cause. We learn about how a program of intimidation and litigation enabled Scientology to persuade the IRS to give them status as a tax-exempt religious organization. Horrifying tales of abuse and degradation are revealed by former members, all of whom are grossly ashamed of their past promotion of the church and are now keen to do what they can to let the world know what is going on behind Scientology's closed doors. 

Going Clear is a crazy and fascinating film, a meticulously documented piece of investigative work that tells a disturbing story about a highly dysfunctional yet powerful organization. If even 1% of the stories revealed in this documentary are true, the Church of Scientology has some serious explaining to do. Going Clear has created awareness of the issue; it's now up to the world to take notice and do something about it. 

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