Week 41: Religulous

MPAA#: 44539
Showtime: 9:35
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: lower right
Shotgun: Jay M.
Attendance: about 24
Weather: clear, cool
Food: Dr. Pepper, mini chocolate bars
Expectations: moderate
Met?: yes
Pre-show ads: Hyundai, Telus
Trailers: Defiance

Bill Maher travels around the world to explore Western religions, especially assorted flavours of Christianity, in Religulous. Maher is well known as a stand-up comedian and TV host for his opposition to organized religions and for his empiricism; so, it is no surprise that his film comes from a skeptical point of view. It would be a mistake to call it a documentary, I think, since we tend to assume that documentaries are objective, long-form news stories.

Instead, Maher trains his telescope on fundamentalists (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, among others) and charlatans, taking occasional breaks to speak with scientists and more established religious figures. For example, an interview with the creator of a biblical history museum (where exhibits support the idea that the world was created only six thousand years ago) is contrasted with a discussion about the age of the universe with a Vatican astronomer. Indeed, members of the establishment clergy come off as downright reasonable compared to the TV evangelists and apologists that he encounters.

I enjoyed the first two thirds of the film, which is a generally good-natured deconstruction of myths and misconceptions about Christianity that the average Westerner would not subscribe to anyway. Some of Maher’s targets score interesting points along the way, like the actor playing Jesus at a theme park who compares the holy trinity to water, taking the forms of ice, steam and liquid.

As the film approaches its conclusion, Maher becomes more aggressive, using negative examples to assert that faith itself is a dangerous human conceit that may ultimately lead to the death of everyone. Of course, one could just as easily construct a montage to say the same about science, or politics, or anything else that a charismatic leader can use to lead others and relieve them of thinking for themselves. It’s ironic that as Maher hammers home his pronouncements at the very end of the film, using the end of the Bible itself as proof of the insanity of Christians, the director frames him from below, against the sun.

In the end, Religulous was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be: an amusing but somewhat strident point of view piece on a subject that is too broad to discuss properly in two hours. Maher and his interview subjects make some thoughtful points, but unfortunately they are cheapened by the film’s shift in tone from reason to its own brand of zealotry.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: none
Credit cookie?: yes
For further consideration: must religion die for mankind to live?
Opening next week: Sex Drive, The Secret Life of Bees, Max Payne
Hoping for: Max Payne, I guess.

About Scott M

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3 Responses to Week 41: Religulous

  1. alex says:

    You make it sound a lot more reasonable than most reviews i’ve seen. I like Bill Maher a lot, but his stance on religion gets pretty strident for my middlin’-agnostic taste. I was avoiding this film because i’d gotten the impression he spends most of the runtime basically pointing and laughing at people of strong faith.

    There’s a really great, constructive debate to be had (several, actually) among faithful and non-faithful people, but i don’t know that Bill Maher is the one to lead it.

  2. Scott says:

    Maher points and laughs hardest at the truly wacky ones that more entrenched religions would also be laughing at: scientologists, mormons, the Mexican guy who is claiming to be the reincarnation of Jesus, etc. Near the end of the film he tackles what I suppose he considers to be the big 3: judaism, christianity, and muslims, and he warns of the dangers of the theocracies that each of them is building, and admonishes the world’s population of non-religious folk to stand up for their own rights. It is definitely a shift of gears in the last third of the film.

  3. Jay says:

    As the resident protestant here, I really wanted to see the film for myself without bias from reviews or ads.
    I enjoyed most of the film. As Scott mentions, he really is only laughing hardest at what many would believe are the more extreme religions / cults.
    I think it also helps to see the movie with someone who is laughing as hard as you. 🙂

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