Friday 3 April 2015


(Alex Gibney, 2015)

Based on Lawrence Wright's book, Going Clear is a sober portrayal of the Church of Scientology from inception to the present day. That means it is often hilarious, often chilling and generally fascinating. Gibney's usual expository style is in place; mixing talking heads with archive footage and voiceover. The best material is in the first half, which portrays founder and pulp sic-fi writer L Ron Hubbard (LRH to his followers) as a cynical, troubled man who founded a religion because he saw it as the best way to make money and not have to give any away to the IRS. His foibles and sometime monstrous behaviour are part of this portrayal, which is lent credence by the testimony of people who served in his "Sea Org" back then and witnessed him in all his charismatic, cruel glory. His ex-wife's account of their relationship is utterly damning.
The second half shifts to an expose of the state of modern Scientology - run by a paranoid egomaniac, obsessed with enemies and money, and much of this half of the film is made up of interviews with the old members of the leadership of the Church, who now seem horrified about what they have done. Spread across both parts is an explanation of the practices of the religion - the various levels, "auditing", the actual belief in "Xenu" and the thetans. Much of this is delivered in a bemused state of exasperated embarrassment by ex-believers, though Gibney does well to never stoop to outright mockery. The odd cases of Tom Cruise and John Travolta, the two most high profile celebrity scientologists, are investigated, as is the organisation's long battle with the IRS to be recognised as an official church, thereby securing non-taxable status.
For all that there is an extraordinary density of material here, it feels a little workaday, especially in the second half, as the church begins to splinter at an executive level, and people explain why they left and what they have realised since. It's hard not to think that this should be more, should hit harder, should hurt it's subject more obviously.

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