Thursday, April 2, 2015

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

Director: Alex Gibney
Writers:  Alex Gibney, Lawrence Wright (Novel)
Features: Lawrence Wright, Mike Rinder, Marty Rathbun

Going Clear is an HBO documentary which takes an in-depth look at the inner-workings of the Church of Scientology. It is based on Lawrence Wright's book on the subject and features interviews with some former Scientologists including Hollywood director Paul Haggis who was a member for thirty years. 

Everyone was thinking that they were gonna get something similar with Paul Thomas Anderson's film 'The Master', in which Philip Seymour Hoffman's character was based on Scientology founder Ron L.Hubbard.  But 'The Master' was more of a look at a person who was kind of struggling with the things that he cooked up and was a look at his relationship, with the combustive character played by Joaquin Phoenix, which he might have seen as a release. The Master in it is very much aware that his books and propaganda are absolute bonkers. In Going Clear, one of the interviewee reckons that Hubbard really believed in the things that he was saying and he might have started off with those exercises as a tool to confront his own psychological problems. Documentary concentrates its initial time on Hubbard's life and how the Scientology thing got going. He was a very prolific Pulp Fiction writer and used to also write science fiction, some of which later turned up in his Scientology texts. He was in the US Navy during second world war and was discharged from it for fucking up things during duty. He later went on to claim to have done heroic things during the war to gullible audience.What comes across from the documentary is that Scientology is an elaborate tax evasion exercise. From the beginning itself, Hubbard was open about his disdain towards IRS and went on to inordinate lengths to avoid paying tax. At one point of time he had three ships with which he used to remain in open seas taking occasional breaks at various ports in the Mediterranean. After his death, a chap called David Miscavige took over the reins and they finally got the religion status for Scientology from the IRS in 1993 which made contribution towards it tax free along with many other benefits. The current wealth of its Church is estimated to be at least $3 billion.

It is interesting to compare the way Scientology works to other more traditional religions. The traditional ones have got scriptures that are accessible to everyone and their crackpot creation theories were acceptable in the ancient days because of the poor scientific knowledge during those times. Scientology attracts new members by positioning itself as a personal development mechanism and the whole processing/auditing thing has got elements of Freudian Psychoanalysis techniques. It is designed as a level based progression to extract money from its members and becomes really absurd with its own creation theory only quite late into the program. So the members will find the utterly ludicrous part only after throwing away so much of their money into it and by then they would have revealed their innermost thoughts through the audition process. These can be used as a black-mail tool especially against its celebrity members and the documentary speculates that it might have happened with John Travolta. Those who speaks out against it are considered fair game for malicious targeting, and if they are former members, then the other church members are supposed to disconnect from them. They are treated very much like heretics. So what I am saying is that there is not much difference between how they operate when compared with other more traditional religions like Christianity operated during their early years. Now that the latter have gained so many members through just by default it is just even ore hard to get rid off. You can easily make this kind of expose on all religions and make its members look utterly ridiculous when it comes to the religious beliefs that they hold. So it will be good if all people who laugh at Scientology to do some introspection when it comes to their own religion. They can especially take a look at the words of former Scientologists who talks about how difficult it was for them to get out and now that they have got out they feel really stupid about the years they wasted on it.

Overall the documentary is a great watch even if you are not at all interested in Scientology. All of us are interested in the phenomenon of organised religion and the documentary serves as a good expose on the ridiculousness of it. It really makes Tom Cruise look bad and I really hope it doesn't affect his films in any way because he has really been on a good run lately with Jack Reacher, MI4, Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow. I don't give two shits about what is happening in his personal life and I judge his films based on their merit and not outside factors. His market is waning in US anyway and so the extend of damage that the documentary might do to him at box office should be minimal. 

Rating: 4/5