By Sean van der Heijden '16, Staff Writer/Copy Editor
We all know scientology as that weird religion Tom Cruise and John Travolta follow, but how much more do you really know? In Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Oscar-winning documentarian, Alex Gibney explores the religion’s origins in the 1950s, all the way through it’s transformation into one of the biggest cults ever. It’s fascinating stuff, and even if you think you know a lot about scientology, it’s well worth a watch.
I was personally surprised with how much archive footage they had—inside looks into scientology conventions (which are totally insane and include way too many fireworks), private recordings from scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and a bunch of behind-the-scenes photos into how the religion first started. Additionally, they got a ton of people to speak out—from Crash director Paul Haggis, to actor Jason Beghe, and four of the former top executives.
All the stories are fascinating and tragic—the church tries to recruit vulnerable people and convinces them it can solve their problems. Then, only once you’ve invested years of time and thousands of dollars in the church, they tell you about their founding belief—a bizarre science fiction tale involving aliens and ghosts, based on Hubbard’s pulp fiction novels from the 50s. It’s really weird, but is integrated so sneakily into the church’s lessons that a lot of people believe it.
There are also, of course, allegations of abuse on many occasions. There are stories of people being locked up in small rooms together, forced to clean bathrooms with toothbrushes, of children being separated from their mothers and kept in urine-soaked cribs. There are stories of bribery in order to get tax write-offs and donations, of stalking and attacking former members, and one accusation that the church orchestrated the divorce between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
Some of these stories and claims have been heard before, but never have they been compiled together in such a concise way and with such damning evidence to back up all of the claims. The stories of those who have left the church, too, are truly heartbreaking—I was left wondering, in the end, how the church is still functioning today. Why has there been no government intervention? No official investigation into the church’s wrongdoings? They truly are a powerful entity—a whole religion that really is stranger than fiction.
Going Clear premiers on HBO on Sunday, March 29 at 8:00 pm, and opens in select theaters on May 16.
Overall: 9 out of 10.