Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief Has Oscar Qualifying Run in Theaters


Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, acclaimed director Alex Gibney’s latest investigative doc, will head to HBO on March 29th. It is a deep dive into the Church of Scientology, which has already started messing with Gibney in advance of the film’s theatrical run. I can’t imagine how this will go over when industry votes start counting because I’m guessing there are a lot of Scientologists voting on the awards themselves. Going Clear has earned great reviews so far (for the most part, Manohla Dargis did not seem to get it, however) with only 10 reviews at Metacritic so far it looks good.

In the meantime, it’s a great opportunity for you to catch up on three previous Gibney docs that are currently streaming on Netflix. I highly recommend them as they are must-see viewing for any American (specifically – not sure you would care if you didn’t live here).

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room – has to be one of the greatest documentaries ever made.

Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer

What a body of work Gibney is building so far in the past decade.

  • Paddy Mulholland

    I highly recommend them as they are must-see viewing for any American (specifically – not sure you would care if you didn’t live here).

    I think many of us non-Americans probably would care. Unlike many Americans, we in the world’s other 191 countries generally do care about what happens beyond our borders.

    Can’t see AMPAS touching this. They’ll be able to ignore it by focusing on more recent docs. Scientologists won’t let them near it.

  • Richardskin

    Good! Very interested in seeing this after just having heard about it a few days ago.

  • Al Robinson

    I’m very excited about this. I find the Church of Scientology very fascinating, since the stories told make them seem very weird. Although, PTA’s The Master made them just seem like liars and storytellers. I’m so glad I now have HBO. I will tuning in for sure.

  • PAUL

    Sounds fascinating – really hope this gets a cinema release on this side of the Atlantic.

    Another great documentary by Alex Gibney is “Mea Maxima Culpa” – fantastic insight into the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Steven Kane

    Al, although inspired by Scientology I like to view The Master as it’s own thing. Only the leader, maybe the wife, were made out to be liars and storytellers, or at least that’s what we were led to believe since neither outright admitted to such claims. The movie is more about shifting dynamics and when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object…or rather when a drunk meets an intellectual drunk. I don’t think The Master is a criticism on Scientology but rather a criticism of not being a free thinker for yourself.

  • Ben Zuk

    I actually think The Master is more about what happens when a man refuses to accept any sort of God/Higher Power/Authority Figure. Freddie Quell was a wild, free spirit who would’ve been better off accepting Lancaster Dodd’s guidance (despite Dodd clearly being a fraud in many ways). Freddie was just a wild animal who couldn’t be tamed and probably ended up dying drinking all that missile capsule liquor he kept making.

  • Ryan Adams

    I’ve always felt that The Master used an invented religion with similarities to Scientology not so much as a veiled indictment of Scientology, but instead had a broader target in mind: it was an indictment of all religions.

    In essence, Scientology is no more “invented” from scratch that any other religion, right? All religions were invented by men and the groups of men who congregated about the man who originated the foundations and fundamental tenets.

    I agree, The Master had many things on its mind and was about far more than religion. But what I got from The Master, in regards to religion, is the impression that Mormons are no different from Scientologists are no different from Christians, etc.

    The only reason it’s easier for us to see these more recent invented religions as various degrees of hoax is because we’re close enough to the origins of the invention to see how fucked up some of the originators really are.

    Paul Thomas Anderson chose to illustrate that by creating a fictional religion to demonstrate very efficiently how, in some respect, at some point, all religions were cooked up by men. Men with varying degrees of integrity and varying degrees of genuine spirituality, to be sure — but there’s not a religion in the world that once did not exist, and then suddenly, voilà, there it was.

    And the way each religion appeared throughout mankind’s history, obviously, is because some human dude wrote down the rules and claimed that he got those rules from a higher power.

    For anyone religious who watches The Master, maybe that’s not a comfortable thing to examine too closely, and that’s why I think it was one of The Master’s boldest strokes to casually slip that into the machinery of the plot, to show how easy it is to do.

    (There are all kinds of Christian symbols strewn throughout The Master, almost as an overlay or schematic template, on top of the fake beliefs the movie’s ‘religion’ was selling. It was amazingly subversive in that regard. I was always surprised that, to my knowledge, no critics picked up on those visual cues.)

    It’s fun that The Master took a very clear and brutal swipe at the fraudulent flimsiness of Scientology, and I’m glad that the movie didn’t hammer the broader point — because, anyway, that was not the main point of the film. It was left up to each individual viewer to decide whether or not, and to what extent, that viewer wanted to apply the same test of veracity to his or her own beliefs.

  • Al Robinson

    Thanks guys for those broader takes on the Scientology and other religions/beliefs referenced in The Master. When I watch that movie again, I will keep what you’ve said in mind, and I will look for those cues. Either way, I thought the movie was great, and one I could watch many more times.

  • Steven Kane

    Al, for sure. I don’t condemn any religion or anybody who follows a religion, or follows nothing, as I am a Christian (in my own way) and keep a very open mind about things. The only thing with Scientology that always gave me pause was it seemed like you had to pay to learn the answers, it wasn’t the answers or the origins of mankind that made me look at it differently. As both a man of science and a man of faith I find my thinking changing from time to time. The Master never made me look at myself and wonder whether I’m a blind lemming following a false prophet. For all we know there are things beyond what science can explain and I keep my faith close to me because it’s what I believe. What The Master did, for me, was show that it wasn’t about faith but about a leader trying to find a loophole in his own religion so he can remain friends with a drunkard and not become his “mortal enemy.” I’ve always said The Master is my island movie :)

  • keifer

    Grand Emperor Klaktu will not be happy with his human brethren on planet earth. I can hear him now. “BAD HUMANS! You will pay for this once Tom Cruise’s love child comes of age! I knew John Travolta’s evil shenanigans mating with the male species would cause nothing but trouble. Time to reign these boys in.”

  • Al Robinson

    Kane, that was well put. I’m pretty similar to the way you see things. I consider myself (for the most part) a Christian, but I also believe in science.
    Also, I can see what you mean about the loophole Lancaster had. Very interesting.

    I’m just really curious how Alex Gibney is going to cover Scientology. How much will he focus on the big-name celebrities vs the people behind the scenes. I hope it won’t just be a biography of L. Ron Hubbard.

  • Bryce Forestieri

    LEE DANIEL’S EMPIRE is essential viewing.

  • Richardskin

    Not to sound like a dick, but Science does not require you to believe in it.

  • Ryan Adams

    The Master never made me look at myself and wonder whether I’m a blind lemming following a false prophet.

    but hey, I hope this sentence is not a more aggressive rephrasing of what I was trying to carefully say here: “it’s easier for us to see these more recent invented religions as various degrees of hoax is because we’re close enough to the origins of the invention …maybe that’s not a comfortable thing to examine too closely”

    Steven Kane, I mostly agree with you,

    Just want to be clear, I said nothing about lemmings or false prophets, and I want to be clear that’s not my attitude. I was trying to be careful in my wording, hoping to get my meaning across by implying things that I wanted to keep vague. But “false prophet” in the sense I think you mean was not my implication.

    What I’m talking about are charlatans. There are Christian charlatans, Muslim charlatans, and Jewish charlatans, all kinds of charlatans, and we could all name a dozen of them from the past 50 years. All with various blends of duplicity and sincerity in their intentions. There are also total con artists who pose as religious leaders and use their charisma to dupe people who are desperate for answers. There are sociopaths who lead vulnerable followers to their doom and ruination and death in the name of religion.

    So I can never say “I don’t condemn any religion or anybody who follows a religion” — because I can think of 50 examples of so-called religion that became famous as despicable tragedies.

    I like to think I can see through bullshit. Everything I read about the founding of the Mormon ‘religion’ looks like a sick con-game lie to me. Whatever good that the followers have managed to sift out of those lies in subsequent generations is a testament to human ability to extract beauty from junk.

    On the other hand, I think Jesus and Mohammed and even Buddha would be horrified to see a lot of what their teachings have wrought. (Though Buddha would have much less to worry about).

    So, personally, when I see people putting their faith in the hilariously absurd stories of modern-day charlatans, I have the wherewithal to say to myself, “nope, this looks fishy as fuck.”

    In my eyes, I believe I can see clearly that Joseph Smith, L Ron Hubbard, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, Warren Jeffs, Fred Phelps, Pat Roberson, etc, are all cut from the same cloth. They’re quacks, egomaniacs, swindlers, and sometimes dangerously psychotic. I believe I can clearly see that they are fakes, and I don’t shy away from saying so, with the same amount of zealous certainty that their millions of followers clearly believe them to be ‘prophets’ to be trusted — to the extent of following some of these evil men to their deaths.

    But when the word ‘prophet’ is brought into the conversation, I want to be sure to differentiate how I feel about the guys in the previous paragraph from the historic (?) personages upon whom the world’s oldest religions are based.

    I will never be ‘tolerant’ of religious imposters or have much ‘patience and understanding’ for the dumbest of their accidental followers. (I say accidental, because naturally the religion of 95% of people on earth is entirely predicated on the accident of where they happened to be born and raised.)

    Just want to be crystal clear that I do absolutely believe there is a great deal of truth and beauty in the basic simple wisdom that forms the foundations of some religions. Both ancient and modern. But the wisdom and truth of Christ’s teaching did not prevent dozens of the sickest greediest scoundrels in history from becoming Popes for nearly 600 years straight. So I do not absolve any religion from the possibility of being hijacked by crazy people and exerting weird control over the minds of millions of its weakest followers.

    I’m a spiritual person, and I too believe that “For all we know there are things beyond what science can explain” (yet),(with the current concepts of science).

    All I mean is, The Master, to me, had a bigger target in mind than being a fictionalized version of a fictionalized “faith.” I believe it meant to examine the ways charismatic leaders of any faith can get inside the heads of people looking for answers — and how some people, no matter how desperate they are for answers, cannot allow themselves to fall for any fake religious bullshit, no matter how fancy.

    I don’t trust modern religion, and I don’t trust most contemporary definitions of faith. But I do believe in universal mysteries, the unanswered questions about nature of (what we perceive as) physical reality — causes, effects, phenomena, origins, purposes that are thus far beyond the realm of current human understanding.

  • Ryan Adams

    (yikes I hope nobody read that comment before I had a chance to fix it, because I made some typos that conveyed the opposite of what I meant.) sorry (and there might still be some awkward wording.)

  • Watermelons

    I’m only religious when I Thank God It’s Friday! Lol :)


  • Steven Kane

    Ryan, in no way was my comment to Al somehow, sorta, kinda, maybe directed to you! Looking back I can see why you think so by what I said to Al should be taken on it’s own and completely separate from what you said. I just went on my own signature rant.

  • Ryan Adams

    Steven Kane, thanks for saying that. I thought it about later, hours later, and I knew that you weren’t reacting to anything I said. I truly intended to send you an email to say I was sorry for misunderstanding, but I just hadn’t got around to it yet.

    There were only a handful of us in the discussion that night, and I’ll be honest: I knew that I was about to tread on touchy territory with what I wrote. I cut out 2 paragraphs of my comment to tone it down but I was still worried that I might end up causing friction anyway.

    So I was on guard. And that’s why I thought what you wrote was meant as a polite but firm rebuttal — but after I settled down I knew it wasn’t. Thanks for saying so though.

    My own unease with what I was trying to carefully say made me hypertensive to anything anyone wrote afterwards :)

  • Steven Kane

    Ryan, you know my style and I’ll grant you if I would passively direct something toward you without wanting a confrontation, it’d be close to what I wrote, which is why I was like, “Ahhhhh okay I see the confusion.” I should’ve visited AD days ago but, y’know, the weekend and stuff. Hope you didn’t sweat it too much :) And I’m the one who’s supposed to be hypersensitive here! All’s well that ends well, brother.

  • Kyle

    I saw Going Clear this weekend on HBO – it is another top-notch doc from Gibney. It claims however that the Church of Scientology has only around 50,000 followers worldwide due to years of controversy and criticism. So it seems statistically unlikely that there are “a lot of Scientologists voting on the awards themselves”. I think it’s quite possible Going Clear could make it to next year’s Best Doc race.

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