I like Bill Maher. He’s a really funny guy. For those unfamiliar with his work, he’s that stand up comedian who’s HBO talk show and various appearances as the token atheist on Fox “news” are YouTubed and reddited, digged and liveleaked ad nausea, whenever on the very rare occasion a guest on his show is allowed to make a point which Maher doesn’t immediately shoot down or belittle with received opinion on a topic which last week he knew nothing about.
Bill’s feature film on religion has atheist preaching to the converted written all over it—and if there’s one thing Christians and we non-theists share more in common than we’d like to admit, it’s our liking for a near constant reaffirmation of our solidly held beliefs.
Religulous is a super dumbed down attack on the various religious interviewees paraded in front of the constantly moving camera, who are only made to sound even more dumb than already are, because the MTV jump-cut editing style shows them out-of-context, apparently struck dumb, unable to respond to Bill’s rationalism and logic, as if they’ve never heard the anti-theism stance before.
If this is supposed to be “our” best shot at responding to Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, then Bill has sorely let us down. If this is supposed to be the Americanized, ten nanosecond attention span version of the documentary polemic, which no-one of any kind of strong religious faith would have a problem completely ignoring, it suceeds in spades.
The biggest problem with ‘Religulous’, is that in the case of documentaries of this kind which came before it, Zeitgeist: The Movie and Richard Dawkins’ Enemies of reason, for example, there was an assumption the viewer had a reasonable degree of intelligence. The debate was opened up by the neat way in which historical evidence, previously only understood by academics, was laid out in a way everyone could understand.
These movies explored the gods of ancient Greece and Egypt who were born to virgins, cast miracles, died and rose again after three days—and a myriad of other conversation starters no self-respecting humanist can afford to leave out of their arsenal, for that fateful day in the future when they may have that conversation with a wavering Christian, Muslim or Jew—who needs help in truly seeing the cult of their birth for what it really is.
All of these killer points are made somewhere along the way, in Maher’s film. At one point, in fact, when listing the hero warrior gods of ancient folklore, Maher uses the on-screen graphic check-list cliché exactly as used in Brian Flemming masterpiece ‘The God who wasn’t there‘.
The biggest problem with the one-on-one interview sections of the film, which are supposed to show religious people up to be unthinking morons, is that they are so obviously cut out-of-sequence that anything the people being interviewed might have said, which truly is as bigoted and moronic as we know religious people are capable of being, is lost to the constant attempts at dry, awkward pause humour artificially created in the edit—as opposed to because that’s how the conversation actually panned out.
There is no pace to the conversation pieces which gives the viewer any sense of being in the room with two people just talking about it. The whole film is just a roller-coaster ride through Bill Maher’s preconceptions about people he’s never met, as he steers himself towards finding what he expected to find out about them before he set out, in time to walk away, happy the camera man has enough dumb expression footage in the can, for them to insert whatever cheap shot of Bill’s admittedly very cutting and accurate opinion they want to, in the cutting room.
It is such a shame that half the budget of this movie wasn’t better spent employing the services of activist atheists like Sam Harris and Dan Dennette to craft the movie into something which might truly communicate the secular humanist message of tolerance and understanding, in the face of religious hatred and bronze-age arrogant certainties.
Instead, I’m left to fear that the whole thing will be used as a stick to beat us with, by the people and their supporters hijacked within the movie‘s two dimensional approach to exploring faith and belief—and at the same time simply make it harder for honest filmmakers to secure frank contributions from the religious in the future—when we can only hope someone, somewhere gets it together to make a film worthy of such an important subject.
In short: Get it on BitTorrent and save your money