3/30/2015

HBO’s Scientology Exposé Going Clear Is Jaw-Dropping

The revelations in Alex Gibney’s new documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief won’t come as a huge surprise to anyone who’s read Lawrence Wright’s devastating, similarly titled book-length exposé. But a movie is a very different thing than a book, for better and for worse. There were numerous books about SeaWorld’s shady practices before Blackfish came around; there was tons of literature on climate change before An Inconvenient Truth came out. Raise your profile and you raise your stakes. This is something Gibney and Wright understand. It’s also something Scientology understands. That’s probably why they’ve been fighting back so vehemently against this film, which is opening in limited theatrical release this week and will show on HBO later this month. (It premiered at Sundance in January, with a heavily buzzed-about screening that saw festival volunteers forming a human chain around Gibney and his subjects afterward.)

The cult is right to be scared. Going Clear is spectacular stuff. Literally. Scientology thrives on spectacle, and one big advantage the film has over the book is that it can show us footage of Scientology’s big “events,” which look like Nazi rallies crossed with Hollywood awards shows. It can also show us video footage of the church’s leaders dissembling and evading when confronted by reporters. Seeing is disbelieving: Watching this stuff, instead of merely reading about it, somehow makes Scientology both more ridiculous and more chilling....more