Alex Gibney has made his name as a filmmaker through scintillating, exhaustively-researched documentary epics that expose the most corrupt societal forces.
With a healthy assist from Lawrence Wright’s exhaustively researched book of the same title, the Oscar winner turns his attentions to the Church of Scientology in “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” opening at Lincoln Center Friday and coming to HBO on March 29, and the picture is damning.
The documentarian employs his characteristically populist style to examine the origins of the religion, depicting its intrinsic links to founder L. Ron Hubbard’s own bizarre life story, and the reasons behind its increasingly powerful stature despite having relatively few members.
His talking head subjects, who have been subjected to a major publicity campaign by the church in the build up to the release, include director Paul Haggis and some of the most high-ranking former officials in the Scientology hierarchy, lending significant credibility to some frankly astonishing stories of life within the modern-day church, including time spent in a prison called “The Hole” at the California headquarters. The movie unpacks the involvements of Tom Cruise and John Travolta in what are frankly edge-of-your-seat segments.
Still, “Going Clear” takes great strides to avoid judging people who believe in the philosophy behind Scientology; there’s no snarky dismissals of the stories of Xenu and Dianetics and “The Bridge to Total Freedom.” It isn’t about questioning a belief system but rather those who would manipulate and exploit it.