Screens: HBO

You're Going To Want To Clear Your Schedule For Going Clear

HBO's Scientology exposé isn't quite a religious experience, but it's pretty great.

Praise be to Xenu, because our day has come at last. As promised just a few months ago, Alex Gibney's documentary film adaptation of Lawrence Wright's non-fiction volume on Scientology, premieres tonight on HBO, and you're going to want to check it out.

That Going Clear is hopping into the time slot formerly occupied by The Jinx feels appropriate: both are (allegedly) true crime stories studded with stylish, artsy re-enactments -- oh, and both tell such fucking chilling tales you will be shocked that their subjects aren't in prison.

Some of my fellow critics/friends will say/tweet that the film isn't shocking enough.

2015-03-29-television3

I treasure both Lindsey and Richard, but I respectfully disagree: even if you've read the book (which I did, nbd) and, prior to that, devoured every news source featuring a Scientology apostate describing his or her experience in and out of the church (which I cannot stop myself doing), the film is still effective -- or, at least, it definitely worked on me. There's a difference between reading horrible stories of, for instance, a woman being forced to disconnect from her child because the church has ruled her a Suppressive Person and watching her tell the story herself, literally putting a human face on the destruction the church has (allegedly) wrought in its followers' lives.

But it also, unexpectedly, makes it easier to understand what attracts adherents to study Scientology in the first place -- how the communication and emotional processing tools actually do work and improve lives...until the point where you're required to continue auditing yourself in search of pain you're pretty sure doesn't exist, and pay for more and more courses to proceed up "The Bridge." (Which, by the way, you don't ascend a bridge, you cross it, so maybe you should have worked a little harder on thinking through your metaphors than at just cranking out as many titles as you could, The Late L. Ron Hubbard.) I never thought I would respect Paul Haggis at all post-Crash, but publicly leaving the church opened up a crack, and his manner in Going Clear just made it bigger. (Crash is still awful, but I no longer necessarily consider it proof that he's intrinsically a bad person.)

The other thing you can't entirely get a sense of in the book is the look and feel and creep factor of the recruiting videos the church has produced -- including a VIDEO for an ORIGINAL SONG, guys.

The best stuff, naturally, revolves around David Miscavige, who took over as leader of the church after L. Ron Hubbard died (in hiding, to avoid arrest on tax evasion charges) and is now Chairman of the Board of Religious Technology Center. To put it in terms of another religious sect currently in turmoil, Miscavige enjoys the kind of power now that Warren Jeffs once did before he went to prison, and if a similar fate awaits David Miscavige in the near future, no one's going to be that surprised. (Though it's not really discussed much in the film, Miscavige's wife Shelly has been missing for almost eight years, and his niece Jenna Miscavige Hill has publicly described her own horrible experiences of being born into the church and leaving as an adult.) If Going Clear also draws scrutiny to Miscavige of the sort that Robert Durst has faced after The Jinx, you're going to want to see all the details of Miscavige's (alleged) abuses and imprisonment of Sea Org members -- church clergy, for lack of a better term -- and the lengths he's gone to in order to kiss up to the church's most famous member, Tom Cruise. You also need to see footage of him in action so that you can agree with me that Jacob Pitts of Justified needs to play him in any future biopic.

Screen: HBO; Photo: FX

Screen: HBO; Photo: FX

The church, as is (allegedly) its wont, started on the offensive against the film pretty much as soon as it was announced: if you Google the title or the name of pretty much anyone in it, the first result is a sponsored entry from Freedom, the church's publication, discrediting him or her, just one part of a fairly extensive opposition campaign. Everyone in and near this movie is facing years of harassment for bringing this information to light. Don't let it all be in vain!

Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief premieres tonight at 8 PM ET on HBO.