“Scientology really is a journey into the mind of L. Ron Hubbard and the further you get into it the more like L. Ron Hubbard you become.”
Lawrence Wright, Writer
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he HBO produced documentary film Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief was causing a stir even before it was released. Based on Lawrence Wright’s 2013 novel, Going Clear examines the legitimacy of Scientology as a “religion”, much to the chagrin of the Scientology lawyers who tried to bully the producers into not releasing what they saw as a defamatory anti-propaganda. And as the film slowly looks deeper within the organisation, it begins to unravel some dirty little secrets that prove the spotless image portrayed by it’s celebrity endorsers isn’t as squeaky clean as they’d like us to believe.
One of the most interesting things about the documentary is that unlike other Scientology-based films it shows numerous never-before-seen interview clips of the Church creator (founder L. Ron Hubbard) both prior and post-establishment of Scientology. For a man who is reportedly acknowledged as being one of the most charismatic and intelligent men to have ever lived, I was definitely left feeling more than unconvinced.
The documentary links Hubbard’s origins as a sci-fi pulp fiction writer in the 1930s, to his creation of Scientology. In fact, many of the scientific “phrasings” used within his previous fiction works are shown to appear repeatedly within Scientology’s main philosophies and 452 page “bible” equivalent, Dianetics. It becomes very clear later in the documentary, that it is Hubbard’s overwhelming desperation for fame and wealth (that he clearly never managed to gain from his writing career) that becomes Hubbard’s major catalyst for creating a society where he would be worshipped as a god-like figure.
Whilst the opinions in the documentary are decidedly one-sided, the testimonies of the ex-members (in particular the few leading members of the most elite and trusted ‘Sea Org’ group) were so chilling in their honesty and openness that their testimonies seemed to ring true. The saddest moments for me were when the ex-members berated their younger selves for allowing themselves to be subjected to such hideous treatment within the Church and believing that they deserved it.
From a non-Scientologist point of view, the Church’s secrecy, or unwillingness to be unbiased, plays to their detriment. This is especially clear in their constant lack of ‘official comment’ during the allegations filed publicly to them during the filming of this documentary. The secrecy of the organisation just seems to further add to the air of mistrust that surrounds Scientology and its members.
One thing that was made very clear during the film whilst we were filing out of the cinema, was the number of people caught completely unaware at the human abuse cases brought against Hubbard and his church.
Throughout the 120 minute runtime, a number of the abused intimately describe a hidden world of pain, punishment and forced labour within the hallowed grounds of the church. Infant members are alleged to be left alone for days on end to fester in their own mess, whilst their parents are made to work for less than livable wages or punished for non-compliance in a glorified prison called ‘The Pit’.
Backed up by video and photo evidence, the numerous testimonies of previous inner circle members are both shocking and heartbreaking to watch. This is very apparent in the interview of Sara Goldberg (a former Scientologist), who after being forced to choose between having a relationship with her recently excommunicated son and her family still entrenched within the organisation, was classed as a ‘SP’ (suppressive person), thrown out and left with no money or home. But as the documentary continues, it becomes clear that Goldberg’s case seems to just be one of an alarming number who have been singled out by the church of Scientology for non-compliance.
The documentary brings the secretive world of Scientology to the forefront by putting a spotlight on what has essentially become the hidden reality of the religion. And it is this look behind the wizard’s curtain through the eyes of some of the biggest names in the religion that really makes this documentary one of the most essential watches of the year. It is not until we see behind the a-class celebrity endorsement and a suspicious billion dollar tax-free collective fund that we begin to see what is truly at stake in Hubbard’s realised dream – the lives of thousands of vulnerable people. Whether drawn to life as a Scientology by the glitz and glam of Tom Cruise’s endorsement or drawn in by the hope of being accepted, it is clear that Scientology has become a modern dictatorship where you are held hostage by your own admission.
For anyone who missed it in its limited UK release (blame those darn Scientology lawyers), Sky Atlantic is showing the documentary film on the 21st September (albeit possibly in an abridged form for legal reasons), so be sure to set your TV’s to record.