Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

US | 2015 | Directed by Alex Gibney

Logline: An in-depth look at the Church of Scientology, its history, its methods, and its effects on those who have been on the inside.

Basing his documentary on the book by Lawrence Wright, Gibney – an extremely talented filmmaker – was primarily interested in finding out why so many people, especially high profile celebrities, had joined this so-called religion. He ended up with a powerful, and ultimately very disquieting, exposé on the inner workings and devastating consequences of this complicated belief system that has seduced so many.

I went into this packed (some two-and-a-half thousand) Sydney Film Festival afternoon screening knowing a little about Scientology, but not a lot. I was chiefly interested in the Hollywood connection, which includes Tom Cruise and John Travolta as two of its long-term poster boys, and the science fiction background stemming from its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. What I learned was a real eye-opener.

In a nutshell, Hubbard, who had enjoyed success as a prolific author of mostly pulp science fiction beginning during the 1930s, served in the military for numerous years, then became involved in the occult, and, after during his second marriage, made the declaration "Writing for a penny-a-word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” Hubbard published his book on Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, which sold by the truckload, and subsequently, founded the Church of Scientology, with his book as its bible, and “auditing” (via his electrometer) as its chief practice.

Going Clear (which refers to the process in which its members rid themselves of the emotionally painful experiences of their past enabling them to live joyful lives) exhibits a very damning picture of Hubbard’s creation, and in particular shows David Miscavige, the Church’s Chairman of the Board of nearly thirty years, as a megalomaniacal sociopath (it doesn’t do any favours for Tom Cruise either). This is an organisation that prides itself on being a non-profit church, and as such, is tax-exempt. It has, however, become one of the wealthiest financial institutions in America, worth well over a billion dollars.

No here comes the big crunch … This is a “religion” that reveals to its members, only after they have already “invested” huge sums of money and ascended up to the higher levels of indoctrination, that seventy-five million years ago an evil galactic ruler, named Xenu, solved overpopulation by bringing trillions of people to Earth in DC-8 space planes, crashing them into volcanoes and nuking them. The souls of these dead space aliens were then captured and shown films of what human life should be like, including false ideas containing God, the devil and Christ. The alien spirits, known as thetans, inhabit our bodies, and Scientologists believe that if they rid themselves of these they will be healthier and will even gain special powers like mind-over-matter.

Apparently some Scientologists have spent more than $300k to gain this knowledge. 

By using a combination of fascinating archival footage, recreations, and candid interviews with key figures, including director Paul Haggis, actor Jason Beghe, and high-ranking Church officials Mike Rinder and Mary Rathbun, who have managed to prize themselves free of the sticky web that is the Church of Scientology, Gibney has constructed an altogether gripping and enlightening portrait and study on the dangers of intense faith. Notably, but not surprisingly, Tom Cruise and John Travolta declined to be interviewed for the documentary.


And herein lies the documentary’s most salient point; one of humankind’s most fallible traits is our inherent “loneliness” and fear of thinking for one’s self. Religion – faith – seems to be the answer, but devoting oneself to the doctrines of a religion and/or cult (and let’s be honest here, Scientology is not a religion) can lead to emotional vulnerability, psychological manipulation, and, ultimately, abuse and exploitation. The Church of Scientology blatantly manipulates and abuses people, emotionally, psychologically, fiscally, and even physically. There is no joy here, only a mask hiding fear. 

I’m inclined to make a disclaimer: I’m not about to compare Scientology to other religions or cults, which is, in itself, a huge can of worms. I know there are religions that condone murder and practice paedophilia, but I’m not inclined to discuss them. My opinion here is simply on Scientology, based on viewing the doco Going Clear.

What is heartening to learn is that the membership for the Church of Scientology is shrinking. Hopefully, as a result of this high profile doco, the IRS will re-consider their decision to allow the Church to remain tax-exempt. I hope the FBI will initiate a criminal investigation into the human trafficking. And, maybe, just maybe, one day the Church will implode under the weight of its audit files. However, it is highly unlikely Cruise or Travolta will ever turn their backs on Hubbard (who passed away in 1987), as their audit files would probably contain enough dark secrets to ruin half of Hollywood. But that’s another kettle of fish!

Going Clear is required viewing for anyone who is fascinated by the question of faith, and/or the insidious influence of cults, or for anyone has been involved either directly, or indirectly, with a cult or sect. It is essential viewing, period.


Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief screens as part of the 62nd Sydney Film Festival, Wednesday 10 June, 8:35pm – Event Cinema 4.