'Going Clear' is an Impeccably Assembled Argument on the Ethics of Scientology
The film is based on Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book 'Going Clear,' which looks to educate on the history and practices of the Church of Scientology, as well as profiling eight former members of the church, giving an inside look into how controversial decisions are rationalised and true believers of the movement are moulded.
Corrupt Nature of the Church
The documentary serves to ask questions such as: Why would someone support the Church of Scientology? What does it take for a member to reach his or her's breaking point? And, why is it so easy to recognise unsavoury behaviour in retrospect? The two-hour-long documentary attempts to wrestle with these fundamental questions throughout a series of interviews.
Former members of the church are interviewed during the piece. One particular story from a former member stuck out in my mind. Sylvia Taylor shares her heartbreaking and inspiring story in the film. Taylor was sentenced to the churches disciplinary program, the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), in 1977. She was forced to live in over-crowded rooms, and made to sleep on a damp mattress outside, then having her new born baby daughter taken away from her before she escaped the church.
Another aspect the documentary explores is how the church still manages to prosper in a financial sense — given the dwindling numbers of members — which may be down to the IRS deeming it to be tax-exempt on the understanding that Scientology is a religion. Gibney expresses that the IRS re-evaluate this, and hopes that celebrity members — John Travolta and Tom Cruise — begin to realise the corrupt nature of the church.
A Moral Responsibility
Gibney uses Cruise’s celebrity and notoriety as a jumping off point for getting his opinion across that the actor is the number-one salesman for Scientology, and has a moral responsibility. Gibney even questions that Cruise should demand an accounting inside the church he apparently cherishes. And, if the Hollywood star wants to see it survive, it would be worth having him demanding a change.
It goes without saying Going Clear has faced a slew of negative reactions from supporters of the church who believe Gibney’s film is wrong, he himself a liar, and an apostate. Of course, words like these for any documentarian is like water off a duck’s back; they’re accustomed to negative feedback and harsh reaction, especially when the subject is as controversial as Scientology. However, Gibney doesn’t allowed such a blinkered mindset detract from his attempts to unearth the truth.
Going Clear manages to cram a lot into its two-hour running time with most of it justified for inclusion. Even thought it can be viewed as overkill, Gibney seemingly had no choice but to take the words of former members as scripture, given he was unable to obtain the opinions of any current member of the church.
On the whole, Going Clear is an impeccably assembled and strongly argued outlook on a systematic group of individuals that have come under a lot of scrutiny during their existence. The documentary sheds light on an organisation that deserves its ethics questioned and a possible social intervention.