Anyone with a Twitter feed will be aware of Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, even if not by name.
For some time, promoted tweets have filled feeds in an attempt to discredit individuals who appear in Going Clear, the documentary that debuts at 8 p.m. Sunday on HBO. The tweets don't mention Alex Gibney's documentary by name, but these paid-for missives accuse ex-Scientologists of being liars, seemingly without context. Ex-Scientologist Mike Rinder, for instance, is called a "deadbeat wife abuser."
What's odd is that these attacks illustrate exactly what Gibney's doc says about the Church of Scientology, echoed by founder L. Ron Hubbard's own principals: "We never defend, we always attack."
Rinder himself appears to concede he was part of the problem.
The information in Going Clear will not be new to readers of Lawrence Wright's fantastic 2013 book of the same name. Wright, whose book began as a New Yorker article, says in the documentary he became interested in Scientology in the same way he became interested in any other extreme religions he has covered, including the People's Temple in Jonestown and radical Islam: What makes people so devoted to it? Why do they give their lives to it? And why do they stay?
Even though Gibney's film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, relies heavily on its source material, that doesn't make it any less shocking to watch. Reading Wright's reporting on Hubbard's outlandish life or the church's practices is one thing. It's quite another to see it through interviews, archival footage, and clips from Scientology gatherings, featuring Tom Cruise putting his movie-star charisma to work for the good of the church.
To answer the question Wright posits, Going Clear explains that Scientology first intrigues people by being presented as a set of tools to help with the stressors of everyday life through a process called auditing, then ensnares them by withholding the religion's origin story until many years and thousands of dollars are spent. Upon reading these texts (handwritten pages by Hubbard), ex-Scientologist and Crash director Paul Haggis thought, "Maybe it's an insanity test? Maybe if you believe this, they kick you out?"
Instead, the documentary shows how the church works overtime to keep members in its ranks - John Travolta, for instance, is an illustration of how Scientologist higher-ups use to their benefit secrets from auditing sessions - and attempt to destroy the lives of those who decide to leave.
Gibney's doc is a punishing amendment to Wright's book, illustrating how this modern religion has stayed alive and well.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
8 p.m. Sunday on HBOEndText