He’s faced off against Enron, Lance Armstrong and the Catholic Church, but now documentary master Alex Gibney is facing his toughest adversary yet: the combined power of the worldwide Church of Scientology. In this searing, eye-opening doc, Gibney offers testimony from former church members – including several from current chairman David Miscavige’s inner circle – alongside a history of the church from its mid-’50s roots in the writings of sci-fi author L Ron Hubbard to its current status as a globe-spanning, multi-million-dollar organisation.
The most colourful recollections concern some of the Church’s infamous celebrity adherents: the tale of Sylvia ‘Spanky’ Taylor, part of John Travolta’s team during his early days as a Scientology convert, is upsetting but all too believable. But it’s the backstory that proves most fascinating: one ex-member recalls her time in Hubbard’s ‘Sea Org’, the ocean-going elite corps at the heart of the Church, while faded interview footage of Hubbard proves enlightening. It may preach largely to the converted, but Gibney’s film offers a remarkable insight into how a religious organisation like Scientology comes into being, and how it sustains itself six decades later.