flipside movie emporium
   
home | movie review archive | features archive | about | forum

Religulous   C

Lionsgate

Year Released: 2008
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Larry Charles
Writer: Bill Maher
Cast: Bill Maher.

Review by Rob Vaux

It physically pains me to give Religulous a thumbs down, because I am full-score in its ideological corner. Its stated intention is to show how the evil of organized religion far outweighs the good, and how easily fanaticism can take hold when people are willing to ignore simple, straightforward facts. From that perspective, it has a viable point. It also has an eloquent (if unduly snarky) spokesman in Bill Maher and a refreshingly evenhanded approach to its targets. Buddhism and Hinduism apparently get a pass, but it's open season on everyone else -- Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, even the Mormons take it in the shorts (though they were apparently smart enough not to let any official representatives on-camera). Considering how much power the religious right has gained in America in the last two decades -- and considering that at least one of our vice-presidential candidates is an affirmed creationist -- Religulous has more than enough moral authority to start calling true believers on their foolishness.

And yet with such a potent topic and so many fruitful directions in which they can go, Maher and director Larry Charles embrace the very methods they wish to condemn. Namely, they cull the weakest members of the oppositional herd, spring an ambush interview on them, and get them to squirm by asking a lot of loaded questions. How can you possibly believe that man coexisted with the dinosaurs? If God is so loving and good, why did He let six million of His chosen people die in the gas chambers? If the Bible (or the Torah or the Koran) is literal fact, then why can't stories about magic pumpkins and wolves dressing up as grandmothers be fact too?

Good questions. Serious questions. Questions that some people should contemplate more rigorously. And yet questions which a number of people have contemplated more rigorously... for centuries. Since the earliest days of civilization, scholars have debated the accuracy of religious text, the evils performed in the name of God, and the existence of conflicting beliefs on a planet composed entirely of the Creator's children. The answers are there -- or at least enough of them to make for a stirring debate -- but Religulous has no interest in open intellectual discourse. Bearbaiting is much more its style. The camera follows Maher from place to place as he targets Jews for Jesus, televangelists, suburban Pentecostals, "cured" homosexuals, deranged priests at the Vatican, and one extremely confused man in Amsterdam advocating marijuana use as a form of religious doctrine. All of them are out of their league against a professional debater like Maher, and Charles stacks the cards further in his favor by not informing anyone of whom they will speak to until the cameras roll (at which point the trap is sprung and it's far too late).

The results are predictable... and predictably dismissible, Maher's subjects sputter and stall while he gazes smugly down at them and casually pokes holes in their flimsy logic before moving on to the next hapless victim. To be sure, a number of them richly deserve the pasting they receive, most notably the aforementioned televangelists and a U.S. Senator (a Democrat, by the way) who can't bring himself to say that creationism is a myth on camera. The best of the lot turn out to be the humblest: a group of Bible Belt truck drivers worshipping out of a converted trailer who, as Maher puts it, "act Christ-like rather than Christian."

The ostensible purpose is not only to reveal how ludicrous blind faith can be, but how damaging such beliefs are when inserted into the public sector and how people who base their decisions on such ephemeral reasoning pave the way to catastrophe. Shadows of Armageddon linger ominously in the air, along with dark predictions about what will happen if people who think we're living in the end times get their fingers on the nuclear button. Yet by choosing the easy path, Religulous fails to do that argument any real justice.

The film's strongest moments come when the dogma is ratcheted down and some actual eloquence enters into the picture. The most telling involves a priest who works for the Vatican's astronomy wing: he points out that scientific enlightenment took place well after the Bible was written, and thus that science and faith are often mutually exclusive. That such a statement comes from a man of the cloth demonstrates a nuance and balance that the rest of Religulous dearly needs. He understands that the Bible needn't be factual to be true, a distinction which Maher appears to gloss over as much as his targets. Religulous has its heart in the right place, and the opportunities it fritters away are all the more devastating because they're so important. But you can't bamboozle a theme park mascot -- even one dressed up as Jesus -- and then ask to be taken seriously. We wouldn't buy it from them, Bill; we expect better from you.

Review published 10.04.2008.

official site | IMDb | DVD at amazon.com

Image

Image


Amazon.com

Watch Now

Buy the DVD




home | movie review archive | features archive | about | forum

Flipside's archive features over 1,000 movie reviews and articles.

contact | copyright | privacy | links | sitemap

Flipside Movie Emporium: Movie Reviews & Commentary
© 2000-2008 Flipside Movie Emporium. All rights reserved.



Facebook    Twitter    Google+