Based on Lawrence Wright’s eye-opening book, and directed by Oscar winner Alex Gibney (Taxi To The Dark Side), Going Clear charts the Church of Scientology’s growth, its marketing campaigns, and its myriad abuses of power, which didn’t stop when leadership passed from founder L. Ron Hubbard to new leader David Miscavige after Hubbard’s death in 1986.
The film builds upon Wright’s biggest allegations: that Scientology facilitated Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s kids turning against their mother, that it vetted and groomed the actress Nazanin Boniadi (‘Homeland’) to be Cruise’s wife, that it helped squash rumors about John Travolta’s sexuality. Gibney even scores one scoop that Wright didn’t know about. But it’s the rare archival footage from Scientology’s inner sanctum that makes the film stand apart from the book.
Among the clips are L. Ron Hubbard admitting in a 1968 interview that he sometimes questions his own sanity, and Scientology leaders high-fiving the same IRS executives they just strong-armed into giving the church tax-exempt status. The scenes of Tom Cruise laughing maniacally in a Scientology video have leaked online before, but that doesn’t make it any less weird to watch him salute a giant portrait of Hubbard, shouting ‘To L.R.H.!’ while fireworks explode in the background.
Even if Cruise were cut out of Going Clear, the personal stories make it riveting, especially when ex-Scientologists reveal what finally made them leave, decades after being lured into the church with self-help philosophy, instructed to pay thousands of dollars in order to advance to a higher consciousness, and convinced to ‘disconnect’ from their families. Only when they’re alone do they learn Scientology’s full credo, and by then, it’s too late to get out.
If Going Clear were a Hollywood thriller, I’d complain that it’s too over-the-top. But this is real life, which is hard to believe. And it’s disturbingly good.
– Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly
Full documentary here: