Going Clear: A Look Into The Unbelievable Church of Scientology

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief takes a bold and effective look at the titular semi-religion made famous by celebrities such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

The film, directed by Alex Gibney and based on Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book of the same title, spends its two hours carefully presenting Scientology, its history, the biography of the founder, and the self-told stories of those who had been indoctrinated. By letting former members tell their own stories, in their own words, we, as viewers, begin to understand how someone could willingly join the church- no easy feat to accomplish. All of the interviews start off positive- I was happier, I was healthier, I had so many friends- before quickly spiraling downward, in a hard to watch but impossible to look away confessional style.

For only the casual reader of the news, who might have seen Perez Hilton rag on Cruise for believing in Xenu or how Travolta doesn’t believe in autism, even the history of the church itself is shocking. For those who have followed Scientology in the news before, Gibney presents little in the way of new information, but presents what we already know in such a gripping manor that the entire audience routinely gasped at the tiniest clips of information.

Going Clear has become infamous for needing 160 HBO lawyers to vet the film before it premiered at Sundance, because of how wildly litigious Scientology is. People who decide to watch based on this fact will not be disappointed; the last twenty minutes alone must have employed at least 140 of those suits.

For those of you who might only know Scientology as a celebrity religion, here are 5 quick facts about Scientology to get you prepped for the movie:

1) It was founded by a science fiction writer.Founder L. Ron Hubbard is the most published man in the world, with over 1,000 books published. Dianetics, which would become the basis of Scientology, even became a New York Times Best Seller.

2) It can cost THOUSANDS of dollars to “move up” in the church.Imagine if every time you attended a religious mass or service at your church / temple you had to pay a few hundred dollars. Scientologists must pay for their auditing sessions, which help them to progress in the Church. Upper level sessions can cost multiple of thousands of dollars.

3) There is a Scientology Center in Times Square.Apart from the most famous Scientology Center in Los Angeles, there are centers around the world, with real estate values adding up to billions of dollars. The one closest to us is in Times Square (although I do not recommend visiting).

4) The thing about Xenu, the alien overlord and volcanoes? That’s not a joke.A core belief of Scientology holds that Xenu, an evil alien overlord sent his people to Earth as a punishment, crowded them in volcanoes, exploded them with hydrogen bombs, and now those left over souls (called thetans) stick to our bodies and make us evil. This is not revealed to members until they have been in the church for many years, however.

5) Scientology is a cult.The abuses committed by the Church against its members have been well documented in books, news articles, television shows, testimonies and court cases. It is not a safe organization to join. If you, or someone you know, have considered joining the church, please reach out to the Counseling and Wellness Center or another trusted adult to find alternative solutions to your problems.

If you missed your chance to see the special, one weekend only screening at the Film Society at Lincoln Center, Going Clear premiers on HBO and HBOGo Sunday, March 9th at 8 pm.