A most welcome documentary which attempts to lift the lid on the 'Church of Scientology' movement - and, boy, they do not like it! This so-called 'Church' (I personally prefer the word 'cult' - it riles them so) has already managed to prevent the publication in the U.K. (as well as Canada and certain other countries) of the same-named book by Lawrence Wright on which this film is based. However, the cult has been unsuccessful so far in getting this film banned here, although they are even now still trying their darnedest.
Writer and director Alex Gibney recently did, among others, exposes on Enron and the covering-up of child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, both of which I saw. (The Vatican used all its considerable muscle, and failed, to try to get this latter film - 'Mea Maxima Culpa' - pulled as well. Funny that, isn't it?).
'Going Clear' is two hours long but riveting throughout - as well as being, by turns, scary and disturbing. It concentrates less on the cult's beliefs as one might have expected, such as that of an universal overlord, Xenu, and alien, hostile spirit forms or 'thetans' invading our bodies, thereby causing all our problems. Some of the dogma will be familiar to many people and it surely beggars belief that so many individuals who, one assumes, would otherwise be classed as 'intelligent', can fall for such crackpot notions without even asking for evidence, just because one megalomaniac, the cult founder L.Ron Hubbard, said so.
The bulk of the film consists of interviews, not just with the author of the book, Lawrence Wright, but also with former cult members, some who reached high seniority status, who talk of the cult's tactics at holding its members in thrall to it, its money-making activities (including its successful campaign to be recognised by the I.R.S. as a 'religion', thereby enjoying tax-exempt status in the U.S.A.), its public information campaigns (as squeaky-clean as a baby's newly washed and powdered bottom) and its harrassing of members who leave (including physical violence meted out to those who are suspected of just thinking of leaving, or who disobey their leader's orders or do not perform their tasks satisfactorily), separating them forever from their families with no contact at all permitted, and its attempt to destroy the ex-members' careers, or even lives (which would be preferable and neater for them).
If their gatherings didn't remind one so much of those of the Third Reich Nazi Party rallies it might have been comical, but it's truly disturbing to see such infectious mob-mentality among the attendees. It's not a place where even one individual would be brave enough to utter one syllable of dissent. And seeing Tom Cruise, their most prized possession, salute a large hanging photo of Hubbard just about took the biscuit! His fawning, submissive and effusive praise for current leader and Hubbard successor, David Miscavige (apparently, a professional bully who's not averse to using his fists and feet to get his own way, just like a spoilt child) is just another part of the horror story.
Their are excerpts of an oldish interview with John Travolta who seems to be just mouthing excerpts from Hubbard's basic Dianetics book, with not much conviction behind it. Travolta is not now considered to be such a pull for getting new members as he previously was, now that his superstar status has faded. In fact there's a hint that he would rather 'out' completely but, because they've got such a grip on him by having his confessional material (as they have for all members - clearly quite useful when it comes to blackmail), that he dare not make any move, or even suggest that he's thinking about it.
Tom Cruise has been for some years now, their prize catch of course - their public, friendly face and magnet. Of course, they have all their octopoidal tentacles holding him fast too, and its working for exactly the same reason as for Travolta. However, at least Cruise seems enthusiastic, though one knows that this is precisely the image they want us to see. His relationship and marriage to Nicole Kidman is discussed, she who, having a psychologist as a father, was under suspicion from the start, as he was being regarded as 'enemy'. Apparently when Cruise and Kidman were making Stanley Kubrick's final film, 'Eyes Wide Shut', Cruise's interest in Scientology was at its lowest. However, as soon as it was over the cult pulled out all the stops to claw him back in - and succeeded - not only with threats if he didn't comply but giving him absolutely anything material that he wanted. So he's still there now as its engaging face..
At the end of this film there are showings of Cruise being interviewed on the subject by various people when he occasionally breaks out into what can only be described as manic laughter, particularly when something 'false' about the cult is suggested to him. I think the motive in showing this in the film is to make one doubt his sanity. (Sometimes his toothy smile and crazed laughing is slowed down for our further delectation)
Actually I did quite like both Kidman and Cruise anyway before seeing this film. Now my liking for the former has increased while that of the latter has sunk way down deep. He sounds like the sort of person from whom one would be well-advised to keep some distance.
Some eight years ago, the BBC did a half-hour programme on the cult. Unfortunately all the attention was hijacked by the BBC interviewer, John Sweeney, not getting answers and completely losing it when trying to talk to some of the cult's senior members, he starting to yell uncontrollably at them. (He was described at going 'tomato-faced', which was apt). That moment was exactly what the cult members were wishing for, detracting all the attention away from them by letting the investigator make a fool of himself while they looked on impassively, smiling behind their stern facades. I heard nothing at all said about a couple of other interviews also in that programme - Juliette Lewis cringing uncomfortably when questioned about her beliefs, denying that she knew anything about Xenu, the bodies stored in volcanoes for 35 million years, etc (not at all convincing) - but even more than her, Anne Archer being interviewed and (I think because Sweeney had used the word 'cult') getting all schoolma'am-ish and, with all the dignity of a headmistress sternly telling off a pupil who'd farted loudly at morning assembly - "How dare you! How DARE you!" It was a moment to savour, though unfortunately eclipsed by Sweeney's hysterical episode later in that same programme.
Incidentally, one of the cult members whom Sweeney was ranting at in his out-of-control moment, shortly afterwards actually left the cult. For him it was a watershed moment, as he then began seriously to ask himself just how long he had to go on telling blatant lies about the organisation to the outside world. He was one of the 'talking heads' being interviewed here.
I didn't know that the membership of the cult is dwindling (now down to 50,000), but its riches through investments, dicey(?) or above-board, are rocketing. That alone is alarming enough to continue our great concern. We all know that money equals power, and this cult is absolutely rabidly drunk on it!
I learned a fair bit through this film, but there weren't any too outlandish shocks. It just put it all together in an agreeable way and will be useful for future reference.
The 'Church' has, of course, completely rejected all of the critical remarks made about it, saying that the interviewees were only pursuing their own agenda. (I wonder if any of them will 'accidentally' come to some grief.) Oh, and by the way, they declined all requests to be interviewed themselves. Now, there's a surprise!
As this isn't in the nature of a 'normal' feature film I'll not be giving it a rating.
Oh, to hell with it................................7.5.
38 minutes ago