Air Date: 03/29/2015
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, whose most prominent adherents include A-list Hollywood celebrities, shining a light on how the church cultivates true believers, detailing their experiences and what they are willing to do in the name of religion.
Directed by Alex Gibney, Going Clear is based closely on Lawrence Wright‘s book (PDF), covering much of the same ground with the aid of archive footage, dramatic reconstructions and interviews with eight former Scientologists: Paul Haggis, the Oscar-winning director; Mark Rathbun, the church’s former second-in-command; Mike Rinder, the former head of the church’s Office of Special Affairs; the actor Jason Beghe; Sylvia ‘Spanky’ Taylor, former liaison to John Travolta; and former Scientologists Tom DeVocht, Sara Goldberg and Hana Eltringham Whitfield.
The film breaks into three distinct acts. In the first, the former Scientologists describe how they got into Scientology; a second strand recounts the history of Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard. In the final strand, the film airs allegations of the abuse of church members and misconduct by its leadership, particularly David Miscavige, who is accused of intimidating, beating, imprisoning and exploiting subordinates. It highlights the role played by celebrity members such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise through the use of video clips contrasting their statements on Scientology with the experiences of former Scientologists.
To support its thesis, the film utilizes footage of ex-Scientologists being harassed and surveilled (as per Hubbard’s dictum that the church’s critics were all criminals whose crimes needed to be exposed), and describes the imprisonment of senior Scientology executives in a facility known as “The Hole“. One Scientologist was said to have been forced to clean a bathroom with his tongue. According to the film, the actress Nicole Kidman was targeted for wiretapping by Scientology in an effort to break up her marriage with Tom Cruise after she was labeled a “potential trouble source” by the church. It also asserts that John Travolta has been forced to stay in the church out of fear that his personal life would be exposed.
Tampa Bay Times (@TB_Times) April 07, 2015
Going Clear also provides research, footage and interviews with former Scientologists that may shed new light on the organization’s billion-dollar nest egg and a shady deal with the IRS wherein after several years of unsuccessfully applying for tax-exempt status, the Church was finally granted the designation in 1993.
According to the film, Church of Scientology Chairman David Miscavige ordered the organization’s members to file individual lawsuits against the IRS for its failure to recognize it as a church. Overwhelmed by 2,400 individual suits and the prospect of defending itself against all of them, the IRS agreed to grant Scientology tax-exempt status in exchange for the withdrawal of the cases.
A 2011 tax filing reveals that the three organizations comprising Scientology claim a combined value of $1.5 billion, a sum that has allegedly been built on the backs of members who pay thousands of dollars to rise within the organization, are paid 40 cents an hour for labor and have been tortured for dissent, combined with the organization’s vast international property portfolio.
Filmmaker Alex Gibney wrote an op-ed published in Los Angeles Times today, in which outlines a pattern of harassment by the Church of Scientology that targeted both him and and writer Lawrence Wright. He also calls for the IRS to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status and suggests the need for a congressional subcommittee.
Two of those interviewed in the film, journalist Tony Ortega, and former Scientologist Marc Headley, reported that investigators from the church had surveiled them at Salt Lake City airport as they made their way to the Sundance Film Festival for Going Clear’s premiere. According to Gibney, the church mounted an “organized” and “brutal” response to the appearance of its former members in the film: “Some of them have had physical threats, people threatening to take their homes away, private investigators following them. That’s the part that’s really heartbreaking.” The film-makers reported receiving “lots of cards and letters” from the church, though in their case it had limited its response to “loads of legal paperwork”. HBO had earlier said that it had put “probably 160 lawyers” onto the task of reviewing the film in anticipation of challenges from the notoriously litigious church.
Ten days before the film’s premiere, the Church of Scientology took out full-page advertisements in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times to denounce Going Clear, comparing it to a discredited story about campus rape published by Rolling Stone magazine. Gibney subsequently said that he was grateful for the church’s advertising, as it had attracted much publicity for the film; he only wished “they’d put in showtimes”. The church also published a “special report” attacking the film on one of its websites, started a new Twitter account which claimed to be “taking a resolute stand against the broadcasting and publishing of false information” and bought numerous Google search results relating to the film in order to direct searchers to its anti-Going Clear pages. The church also posted a series of short films on its website attacking the filmmakers and their interviewees, with titles such as “Alex Gibney Documentary ‘Going Clear’ Propaganda”, “Marty Rathbun: A Violent Psychopath,” “Mike Rinder: The Wife Beater,” and “Sara Goldberg: The Home Wrecker.”
On last weekend’s episode, Saturday Night Live parodied the Scientology music video “We Stand Tall” that was featured in Going Clear. It was commissioned by Scientology leader David Miscavige in 1990 as part of their fight against the IRS, and features several people who later spoke out against the church, including in this documentary.
SNL skewers the creepily cheerful atmosphere of the Scientology video, advertising “Neurotology” with lyrics like, “Religion and science intertwined/aliens live inside of our minds.” They’ve already got the cheesy ’90s music video aesthetic down, but then things get dark when the video points out what happened to various Neurotology followers after the video was made.