April 14, 2015

From Page to Screen: GOING CLEAR

Admittedly, I've always had a slight scholarly interest in Scientology...not enough to consider being audited, though. I was first exposed to its ideas via a book at the local public library....and even as a child, I was confused as to what it was. So when Lawrence Wright's book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief was released, I eagerly checked it out of the library. When HBO announced and broadcast its accompanying documentary, I had to see it (especially since Alex Gibney, one of my favorite documentary directors, also had a hand in its creation).

I'm glad I did, because both the book and the movie are really powerful explorations of a very controversial movement.

Both share a similar structure, focusing their first half on the history of Scientology under L. Ron Hubbard, and the second half on the leadership of David Miscaivige. Both the movie and book take great pains to maintain a sense of neutrality about the Church. (Wright suggests that several people who have left Scientology haven't necessarily denied its teachings - just that those in charge may be abusing power). In exploring Scientology, both Going Clear the movie and the book touch on many key issues: what exactly is a religion? What happens when someone may invest himself too much into his own belief system? And finally, what kind of behavior can - and should - be tolerated in a religious order?

 If you're thinking that you will choose to avoid Going Clear because of perceived support of Scientology....you're missing out. Neither condemning nor condoning, both the book and movie have a just-the-facts manner about them. As people tell their stories (both the book and film use some of Hubbard's own documentation), there's an uneasy sense that something rotten lies at the heart of a belief system. It would be easy for Going Clear to turn into a smear job - the fact that it skirts around some potentially litigious material shows the amount of restraint used to bring these matters to light.

There's a good reason why Going Clear is receiving such attention - Lawrence Wright wrote a very plain, just-the-facts-oriented book, which provided the basis for Alex Gibney's similarly-themed film.

Read the book. See the movie. Don't worry about one spoiling the other - you'll enjoy both.

No comments: