Alex Gibney’s documentary, “Going Clear,” is both fascinating and shocking as it delivers a peek into the Church of Scientology, which outsiders rarely have access.

Based on the book “Going Clear” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright, the film uses interviews with former Scientologists to discuss and shed light on the church. For many, Scientology may most notably be remembered as the premise of a “South Park” episode.

Mentioning the Church of Scientology often conjures up images of Tom Cruise and stories about aliens. Neither of these go without mention in the documentary, but this film finds its strength is in the personal stories interviewees share.

As former members of the church describe their lives in Scientology, many positive aspects of the church are communicated as individuals recall some merit to parts of the church’s program. During actor Jason Beghe’s conversation about the church, it is often difficult to keep a straight face as his expletive laced interview rambles on about the technical terms and devices used by the church.

A the film progresses, a more sinister tone emerges as former members describe some of the physical and psychological abuses suffered while affiliated with the church.

In one of the more gripping tales, Spanky Taylor, a woman who served as John Travolta’s church liaison, recalls finally awakening to the horrors of the church. With teary eyes and a cracking voice, she describes retrieving her infant daughter from a waste-soaked cradle in a church-run daycare. As she details her escape from the church, a clearer picture of Scientology begins to take shape.

Some of the more notable interviews include former high-ranking members who worked closely with the church’s current leader, David Miscavige. Their testimony illuminates many of the manipulative practices undertaken by the church members, including how the church was able to scheme the IRS into granting Scientology a tax-exempt status.

The film also follows several of the interviewees as they describe their life after leaving the church. A mix of emotions flow as former members describe feeling regret, shame and anger following their separation from the church. Some of the former members describe ways in which the church is currently working to discredit and harass them as they begin to speak out about church abuses.

If you have ever had an inkling of interest in the Church of Scientology,  “Going Clear” may serve to answer many of your questions. Alex Gibney is a veteran documentarian who utilizes compelling visuals to accompany interviews, adding up to a coherent and startling look into an often bizarre belief system.