TV review: Scientology exposed in HBO's "Going Clear"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

HBO made a huge splash with its recent true-crime series “The Jinx,” and while the upcoming documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” probably won’t have the same effect, that doesn’t mean it’s not a revelatory and intriguing documentary. “The Jinx” was such a huge deal because it essentially led to the arrest of an alleged murderer, and even though “Going Clear” doesn’t have this impact, it offers a powerful indictment of Scientology.

From director Alex Gibney (Oscar-winner for “Taxi to the Dark Side”) and based on the book by Lawrence Wright (who won a Pulitzer for “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11”), HBO’s documentary has pedigree. And that comes through on the screen.

“Going Clear” begins by introducing high-ranking members (and some celebrities like director Paul Haggis) who have left and exposed the practices of Scientology’s leaders. It then navigates the strange — and occasionally frightening — history of the religion and its founder L. Ron Hubbard.

After some background on E-meters, auditing and Scientology’s rise, “Going Clear” gets really serious. About midway through the documentary, we’re shown a scene from a 1993 convention/celebration where Scientology chairman of the board David Miscavige manically announces Scientology has been given tax exemption (“The war [with the IRS] is over!”).

The methods to which Scientology gained tax exemption are shocking, but none of that compares to the horror stories from former members — intimidation, violence, manipulation, fraud, etc. Many of these former members worked directly with Miscavige and relay the lengths he went to disparage and harass critics/ex-members and protect the religion, including its A-Listers John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

There’s a good amount of stories on Travolta and Cruise’s involvement in Scientology and how they became its champions. While some are rumors we’ve heard before, there are new revelations — the creepiest being details of Cruise and Miscavige’s close relationship.

Most of us view Scientology as this wacky “religion,” but “Going Clear” points out exactly how powerful it really is — holding assets of $3 billion — and the lengths it will go to maintain that power.

Photo courtesy of HBO

"Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief"

8 p.m. Sunday, March 29

3.5 stars