Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015): Quick-shot review!

Going_Clear_PosterAlso known as the documentary that launched a thousand lawsuits, HBO’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015, dir. Alex Gibney) is based on a book of the same name by Lawrence Wright. This documentary, which has received a tidal wave of criticism from Church of Scientology members, details the questionable beginnings and certainly controversial current state of Scientology, with ex-members telling their stories and explaining the intricacies of their former beliefs. Director Alex Gibney focuses his critical eye on church founder L. Ron Hubbard, and current leader David Miscavige, in order to shed light on the organisation and its current state of affairs.

Sometimes there is nothing creepier than watching a documentary that feels like its subject shouldn’t even be real. Disclaimer: I’m not religious, and pretty much all religion creeps me out in some way. But this was an entirely different kettle of fish. I’m not planning on passing any judgement on people who choose to follow Scientology, but it is of note that this documentary doesn’t try particularly hard to make the beliefs of Scientology look crazy. Factual information is presented in what appears to be a neutral manner; aside from the ex-members, some of whom are of high profile, who continually assert that the whole thing is nuts and that they can’t believe they stuck with it for so long. There is a big question that runs throughout this documentary – is Scientology a genuine religion, or is it a cult, or is it a plain old moneymaking scam? I believe each viewer will pretty quickly form their own opinion as to the answer of this question after watching this documentary.


Creatively, Going Clear is a success. Between talking-head interviews with ex-members, archival footage is intercut in clever ways to inform the viewer of the history and establishment of Scientology, and is often used to humorous or iconic effect. There is one sequence which I particularly enjoyed, which illustrated the Scientology creation myth with amazing visuals that looked like a scrapbook-maker’s nightmare, or like Dadaist newspaper clipping art mashed together. There is also one sequence which uses music and advertisements very humorously, which reminded me of the way similar media was used in the highly acclaimed documentary Blackfish (2013). The film’s motif of using a typewriter to define jargon and Scientology terminology that the layman might not otherwise understand, was not only useful and informative but particularly clever given L. Ron Hubbard’s beginnings as a science fiction writer prior to establishing the Church of Scientology

Above all, Going Clear is a fascinating exploration of a group that has captured the attention and wallets of a lot of people, seemingly for its own gain. It includes a disturbing analysis of the ways in which one large group has manipulated a lot of people, with a truly intriguing exploration of the ways in which Scientology is able to do so. I think HBO must be wearing a suit of titanium armour in order to protect itself from the litigiousness of the Church of Scientology, but it’s also worth noting that some elements of the Scientology story are never even mentioned (I don’t think they even mention Katie Holmes’ sketchy relationship with Tom Cruise), so there must be an element of HBO protecting itself by omission. Going Clear is a very disturbing watch, but is also highly engaging and interesting. I haven’t really stopped thinking about this since I watched it, which may be a form of brainwashing in and of itself, or, it could be the sign of a truly effective documentary.



  1. I think I’ll pass on this but great work!


    1. Not any boobs or murdering at all, totally not an IPC film!


      1. You know me very well!


  2. This was really good, but once it got going towards the end it felt like it was cut short.

    Seemed to provide more description than any kind of revelations. I was definitely more interested in the individual realisations about leaving the church.

    It’s so mental though, how anyone believes this is real is beyond me.

    By comparison though, other religions have ridiculous stories too… but come on…

    The BBC one is here, and it’s very good – it’s the follow up to the 2007 one when Mike Rinder ends up meeting with him to help;

    And there’s another one here called ‘The Ex Files’ which is essentially the last bit of Going Clear, it’s all about the defectors…

    It’s an interesting subject matter anyway, a great introduction to anyone not knowing anything about it.

    Nice review.

    1. Thanks for the videos, I’m going to check them out! South Park is right more often that not so I’m pretty psyched about that one. I’m also interested to read the book this is based on to see what’s there in the way of revelations as well. I know HBO edited the content down quite a bit to avoid being sued all over the place, so there might be some juicy bits in the book that they couldn’t include.

  3. Hi, I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. You don’t have to accept but have a look at the link if you’re interested.

    1. Thanks so much Lauren! 😀

  4. Great review! This doc was fascinating and frightening at the same time.

    1. Thanks Brittani! 😀 Definitely one of those documentaries where the subject matter is simultaneously interesting and repellent.

  5. Wow. This sounds fascinating!

    1. It really is, in a creepy way!

  6. It was a very interesting documentary and just shows that if you make people care for something they will defend it and are willing to do anything for it.

    1. Absolutely, a really interesting analysis of exactly how they keep people under their thumbs as well.

  7. http://www.perthnow.com.au/technology/court-ruling-on-whether-australian-isps-must-hand-over-customer-data-over-movie-downloads/story-fnjwnvrw-1227294106822?sv=f96766d0b9020a2953e5afb7af936af ASSHOLES I hope all they expect for their efforts is the price of a ticket which in my opinion should have been refunded because the film was a steaming pile pf shit.

    1. Isn’t it crazy! I never ended up seeing Dallas Buyers Club so I can’t vouch for that however the fact that this case potentially sets a precedent for handing over customer information is extremely worrying.

      1. Voltage pictures are complete assholes and haven’t made one film worth watching. The more you look into the company the more frightening it is. They seem to be pushing the “everyone is stealing from us” BS reality is no one is stealing from them. Just copyright not an illegal action.

        Gaining access to over 4000 customers internet usage details over a copyright infringement is a gross invasion of privacy.

  8. “Is Scientology a genuine religion, or is it a cult, or is it a plain old moneymaking scam?”
    I think it’s always a bit of all three.

    I don’t know if you’re interested in watching a Korean film, but there’s this animated feature film released in 2013 called The Fake by Yeon Sang-ho, also dealing with this issue and it’s definitely worth a watch. Very gruesome, though. And the crude graphics make it all the more harrowing.

    Thanks for the review and I hope I can find this!

    1. The Fake sounds really interesting, I’m going to seek it out! Thanks for the recommendation! 🙂

  9. Great review! I’m gonna try to see it this weekend

    1. Thanks heaps Sati! 😀 Would love to hear what you think about it.

  10. I really really wanted to watch this but somehow missed all the press invites. Wonderful review! It’s made me even more excited to watch the movie.

    1. Thanks Reuben, I hope you get to see it soon!

  11. I found this documentary to be utterly absorbing! I am reading the book and am already finding a bunch of stuff the doc left out.

    1. After watching this I am really interested to read the book too! Especially to read all the bits that the Scientology lawyers made HBO cut out.

  12. […] which focus on uncovering the evils of religion are a particular favourite of mine to watch, and this documentary is no exception, despite its harrowing and […]

  13. […] gnarled roots and science fiction system of belief, you’re looking for a documentary called Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015). Still, the enjoyment of My Scientology Movie isn’t necessarily in its recounting of history […]

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