Everyone has a need to find a sense of purpose in what can sometimes seem a meaningless world. Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, an exposé of the sins of the Church of Scientology, displays this point in almost every moment — whether that be through the founder L. Ron Hubbard’s search for wealth in creating a religion or the fact that Dianetics (a set of ideas and practices regarding the metaphysical relationship between the mind and body) caught on with so many baby boomers so fast at the time of Scientology’s inception.
For all his wacko ideas, Hubbard, a pulp sci-fi writer, understood the human condition and how he could cash in on our fears and anxieties. The problem is, the film suggests, that no matter how much time and money Scientologists give to the church, they still remain broken and depressed.
Going Clear has an amazingly ironic title. For Scientologists, the term “Clear” is assigned to the highest members of the church who have walked their way all the way up “The Bridge to Total Freedom” to become an “operating thetan” (OT). At these superlative stages of OT, one is supposed to be free of any engrams — reoccurring bad memories from the past that are the cause of depression and the reason we can’t realize our full potential.
Gibney’s title is impeccably clever because he shows that the more people go up the ladder, the more dysfunctional and less clear they actually become. The irony is that the only way to fully go clear is to break free from the restrictions of the church entirely.
If you found these last paragraphs dense with lingo, you have little idea what you’re in for. Going Clear is an emotionally powered composition that compactly chronicles Scientology’s origin in the science-fiction of its founder L. Ron Hubbard all the way to the current corruption under Ben Miscavige’s leadership.
High-profile members who have left the church like Crash director Paul Haggis and senior executive Mike Rinder are interviewed and poignantly share the deplorable actions that were done to them and that they did to others. What makes this film more than just cold visual journalism, though, is the regret expressed by the interviewees, and the pain they now experience, as many of them have been disowned and alienated from their families.
Going Clear is not nearly as artful as the recent Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck in its use of documentary form, but what this film offers is more of an emotionally-charged journalism. There is nothing inventive with regards to how the film is put together — an assemblage of talking heads, old interviews, news footage, and simplistic visual reenactments — but it serves the educational purpose as it neatly and concisely expresses Gibney’s messages.
What makes the film exceptional is how coherently it teaches an enormous amount of information in two very short hours to an audience that could know very little about Scientology.
Before seeing Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, I had little knowledge of Scientology. I came out with an understanding of why Hubbard created the religion and why so many people joined him, but I still don’t understand how any Scientologists will be able to leave the film still devout.