By Linc Leifeste | March 11, 2015
The eagerly anticipated HBO Films documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (May 16, 2015), directed by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney and based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright, had an exclusive invite-only screening at downtown Austin’s Paramount Theater on Tuesday night. Presented by The Texas Tribune, The Austin Film Society, The Paramount Theatre and HBO Documentary Films, Richard Linklater strolled out on stage to introduce the film, along with director Gibney and writer Wright, to the full house. After the two-hour screening, Gibney and Wright returned to the stage along with special guest and former high-ranking Scientology member Marty Rathbun, who is featured prominently in the film. Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith led an informative Q&A session with the three men before opening it up for questions from the audience.
As for the film itself, despite being highly informative and well-crafted, I suspect that for those who have been paying any attention, Going Clear probably isn’t going to present any shocking new revelations. That said, the film is the most in-depth, detailed take-down of L. Ron Hubbard’s “religion” yet presented on screen and includes surprising jaw-dropping footage from annual Scientology rallies/celebrations held over the years. As well as shining a light on founder Hubbard’s wildly (some might say insanely) interesting back-story, the film profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, in the process helping to reveal how the church cultivates true believers, and showing the lengths the church is willing to go to to protect itself from those who would cast it in an unflattering light. While I doubt the film is going to have much real impact on the insular church, whose numbers apparently have been dwindling even as its net wealth continues to grow, the fact that the film was even made and is soon to be broadcast before a large audience probably says a lot about Scientology’s declining reach.
It’s well known that Scientology’s most prominent adherents have included A-list Hollywood celebrities, among them director Paul Haggis, who is one of the eight former members the film profiles. And the film pulls no punches when going after the two most famous adherents of the faith, John Travolta and Tom Cruise. If anyone is presented in as harsh a light as Hubbard and current long-time leader of the church, David Miscavige, it’s these two, who are presented as being morally culpable for playing a key role in the promotion of an organization they intimately know to be involved in unethical behavior. As such, the film seems to paint them (as well as possibly the IRS) as the last, best hope for bringing down the organization by quitting the church and shining a light on it’s dark, inner workings. One possible criticism of the film would be that defenders of Scientology are basically nowhere to be found during the film’s two-hour running time, but according to Gibney and company that’s because none of the Scientologists they wanted to interview for the film were willing to talk.