I traveled from Denver to Austin on Tuesday to see a special advance screening of Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. This is a film which defies one-word descriptions so I can’t boil it down to some adjective like “amazing” or “perfect” or “touching” because
all of those words apply and so many more.
I don’t want to give “spoilers” and there are some surprises in this film for everyone including long-time Scientology watchers and ex-Scientologists, so I’ll be sllghtly vague about some things but still do my best to convey what I got from it.
First, let me say what this film accomplishes as a whole. Scientology is a complex subject which can take months or even years to fully understand. Yet this film, in the space of two hours, manages to perfectly capture the culture, spirit and attitude of Scientology in a way I’ve never seen anything else do in such a short period of time. Sure, the abuses and the lies are all documented and they are told in such detail that you cannot help but believe them. Yet at the same time you also are given a glimpse into the positive aspects of it so that you can see why anyone could fall into believing the deceptions or suffer the abuses.
It’s been a nearly impossible task for me as an ex-Scientologist to effectively answer the question “Why do people put up with it?” or “Why don’t they just leave?” I’ve been hampered by an inability to convey the mindset instilled into a cult follower. Frankly, I’ve started to feel it is impossible to communicate unless you’ve lived it yourself. So the joy of watching this film as an ex-Scientologist is that it manages to capture the experience. It does so in a genius fashion by getting multiple members to express the similarities and the differences of their own experiences. In fact, that is the essence of the film: how literally anyone from any walk of life and any educational background can be pulled into a prison of belief. There’s no place for judgement here and the film should finally set the record straight that anyone can fall for this. Intelligence has nothing to do with it. I suppose there are some people who will see this
and walk out thinking that it could never happen to them, not realizing that to some degree it already has with their own religion, political party or other affiliation. This film is about a lot more than Scientology and to anyone who cares to look, they will see that the lessons to be learned from it apply to many more things than just the belief system of Scientology.
I like to think of myself as a rational, clear thinker but emotionally, this film hit me in the gut again and again. One of the most excellent points about the film, in fact, is the way that it is put together with just the right balance of emotional impact and factual evidence. You get the facts that you need to make a rational and informed decision about the value of Scientology, but you also get an emotional roller-coaster ride of hilarity, grief, amazement and shock. It’s a powerful mix and leaves you feeling a little overwhelmed at its power.
Much has been said about Tom Cruise and John Travolta and much more should continue to be said about their complicity. There is a line beyond which one goes from being a victim to becoming the abuser. I think it’s clearly shown in the film how both of them have crossed
that line, Tom Cruise much more readily and much more visibly. This film holds back nothing at showing how Cruise has taken advantage of Sea Org members and personally profited from their suffering. There’s really no other word for it. He and Travolta have been able to stay
quiet so far but once the film is released to the broad public on HBO, I don’t know how they will be able to maintain that silence. There is no hiding from the blatant call to action this film sends to both of them.
The other point that is highlighted very significantly is Scientology’s unjust tax exempt status, a subject I myself intend to do more work on. Given that this is their Achilles heel, it is very important that this issue get a great deal of attention. I personally believe that this, above all else, is the one thing that Scientology cannot live without. Take away their e-meters, even take away all their auditing services, and Scientology could continue to profit and survive. Take away their tax exemption, and thereby their religious recognition in the United States, and Scientology would very rapidly become a short-lived blip in the history of modern quack cults.
In terms of what kind of impact this is going to have on Scientologists, it’s hard to predict but I do know one thing for sure. Many Scientologists may resist the urge to see this film when it comes out broadly, but their non-Scientologists friends and family are not going to have any such urges and they are going to watch. They are then going to know things about thier Scientologist friends that are going to disturb them greatly and they are going to want to talk about it. If Scientologists try to feed them the usual “handling lines” or just tell them that everything said in the film is bullshit and a pack of lies from “bitter apostates” they are going to be in for a sorry surprise. The stories that are told and the people telling them are utterly believable. The abuses did happen. Disconnection is real. There is no wiggling out of that cold hard fact. I think this is going to create a chilling effect with Scientologists’ family and friends which is going to force Scientologists to re-evaluate the validity of their positions. In some cases, friends or family may even care enough to really bring the issues to the forefront – to demand to know whether those Scientologists actually support the kind of depravity and human rights violations depicted so accurately in the film. This cannot help but make at least some of these Scientologists start to take a harder look at what they are involved in. From there, it is not hard to find the truth and that hopefully will cause its own exodus.
I also have no doubt that those who may currently be on the fence or “under the radar” are going to be bolstered enough by the raw truth of this film to push them over the edge and step fully out. If any of them are reading this review, I want to tell you that such a decision is the best you could possibly make for your future. Getting Scientology out of my life was the best decision I ever made.
I was privileged to be able to get up after the film screening and ask Alex Gibney, Lawrence Wright and Marty Rathbun (who was there as a special guest star) about whether any more films would be made on this subject. There is clearly a wealth of information available for this and Alex responded that he thought some kind of central information site may be put together for ex-Scientologists to tell their stories. He said he’s been approached by a number of ex’s in his travels promoting this film, and that the stories are captivating and worth telling.
I cannot give enough kudos to Alex Gibney for what he has accomplished. If there was one thing which I would want the world at large to see to learn the true pitfalls and disastrous consequences of a cult like Scientology, it is this film. Of course, it would not exist without the brilliant written work of Lawrence Wright, who not only is in the film but also served as an executive producer. They have created a truly incredible work which I hope will not only outlive Scientology but will serve as a cautionary tale to proof up future generations against any kind of similar cult influences in our society’s future.