HBO debuts Scientology doc 'Going Clear'

Monday, 23 March 2015 08:39 AM Written by 

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However one feels about Scientology as a religion, HBO’s “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” (8 p.m. Sunday) offers devastating testimonials by former high-ranking church members about the alleged operating principles and alleged abuses by church leaders.

The church has denied the film’s allegations in print ads, through a Twitter account, online article in a church publication and somewhat childish-sounding take-downs of the film’s participants. (Rather than responding directly to charges made in the film, a church spokesperson ignored questions from The Hollywood Reporter and instead tried to dish dirt on the movie's participants, which does little to help the church's credibility.)

Based on the book by Lawrence Wright, who appears as an on-screen talking head, “Going Clear” is written and directed by Alex Gibney, who previously made the sex-abuse-in-the-Catholic-Church documentary “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.” It's an interesting and damning film but not as engrossing as HBO's recent "The Jinx" series.

Read more after the jump. ...

Clocking in at two hours, “Going Clear” may not provide a lot of new details about the creation of Scientology for anyone well-versed in the Scientology episode of “South Park,” and the accusations against church leaders have also been reported in multiple publications before (Wright’s book began as a New Yorker article several years ago) but there is an immediacy to hearing former church members' stories from them.

For those not attuned to past reports, “Going Clear” offers a compelling indictment through the words of former, long-time adherents, including the church’s former second-in-command, Marty Rathbun; former church spokesman Mike Rinder and former John Travolta handler Spanky Taylor as well as actor Jason Beghe (“Chicago P.D.”) and writer/director Paul Haggis (“Crash”).

“Going Clear” can be broken into two halves. The first introduces the backstory of the religion as created by author L. Ron Hubbard (to create a personal source of income for Hubbard, according to the film) and then reveals some of the church’s higher level teachings.

The second half looks at the church under current leader David Miscavige and suggests Hollywood stars are essentially being blackmailed into staying in Scientology after divulging their deepest, darkest secrets as part of church “audits.” Wright calls for the IRS to reconsider the religious classification and tax-exempt status for Scientology and says celebrity members should act as agents of change and call out the church for allegations of human abuse at the hands of church leaders

Although “Going Clear” offers an eye-opening account of Scientology, celeb-watchers may come away somewhat disappointed. While the film offers details on the church’s alleged involvement in the breakup of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s marriage (as well as a “Homeland” actress who was positioned for a time to become Cruise’s new girlfriend), it ignores Travolta’s marriage to Kelly Preston and doesn’t mention Cruise’s marriage to Katie Holmes.

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