Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Religulous - DVD Review

RELIGULOUS (**1/2) - Starring Bill Maher.
Directed by Larry Charles.

Larry Charles directed Borat, and he directs this, and they're very similar. There are some funny moments as the makers set out to make people look stupid, but people can only look stupid if they let those with a camera in.

In order to enjoy this movie, I tried to think back to the Bill Maher I enjoyed in the 1990's, the one who was a little more libertarian and a little less angry.

Maher does a smart thing by introducing his family first and explaining how he came to his non-belief. Then he goes across the USA and across the world to challenge people on their beliefs.

First he goes to something called the Truckers Chapel, and when he starts talking to them about the Bible being fictitious, one guy is so offended he storms out. One trucker talks about how he was into drugs and women before he was saved, and Bill says, "And the downside was...?"

Bill spends more time interviewing fringe folk, showing the "God hates fags" crowd, interviewing a guy who claims to be ex-gay, interviewing a member of Ex-Jews for Jesus. It becomes clear he's not going to interview anyone too prominent, and that the vast majority of his scorn is going to be toward Christianity. In fact many people stop their interviews with "I don't know what this documentary is about..." which makes me wonder if he sought out people who never heard of him and he said "I'm doing a documentary on religion" and then they were surprised he took the "con" position.

He does try to get an interview at the Vatican but is literally thrown out, so he interviews a priest outside who pretty much says, "Yeah, it's all crap."

What's funny is how many people wilt after just a couple questions; they can't defend what they believe. Bill admits it's a luxury not to believe, and I joined in his incredulity when he visits something like the Creation Museum that claims Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs on the Earth together five thousand years ago (they show a triceratops with a saddle). Or the dude who claims to literally be the second coming of Jesus. Or the Amsterdam guy who's built a religion around marijuana. Why even make a documentary if you're not going to stack the deck to illustrate your point, right?

He gets around to mocking my faith by showing anti-LDS videos (in the movie it's done in a way like they're showing the silly parts of pro-LDS videos). He chuckles with a couple ex-Mormons, and then he moves on.

He'll do some unfair things, like putting subtitles under people mocking their answers. (It means when someone speaks in a foreign language, we can't trust the subtitles are actually what they're saying.) Those willing to go on camera in the first place suffer for it, but the ones that do it, it can result in amusing answers, like a senator who sums it up by saying "You don't need to pass an IQ test to be a senator." The movie invites viewers to feel superior to everyone Bill talks to.

Bill spends the last few minutes on militant Islam. He interviews a Dutch parliament member who wants to make Muslimism illegal. He interviews two guys in a Muslim gay bar. His eventual conclusion is simple. Christians and Muslims are on the road of a self-fulfilling prophecy to destroy the world and therefore justify their "end of days" prophecies. "Religion is a fairy tale," he preaches in his closing monologue. "Grow up or die."

I guess Bill's saying the world would be better off if we would be more like him. Let the debate begin.

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