Tuesday, September 30, 2008


When exchanging ideas with his subjects in his often brilliant, religion-bashing documentary “Religulous,” Bill Maher may be one-sided and close-minded, but he’s hardly unfair. I’ve always looked at Maher as one of the few figures publicly expressing viewpoints about religion akin to my own, but found there to often be a vaguely off-putting sense of mockery and disdain that imbues his opinions, so while I agree with what he’s saying, I don’t always love the delivery system. Religion is essentially destructive and inherently ridiculous, but painting everyone in the religious spectrum with one broad stroke doesn’t do either side any good. However, here, while unwavering in his depiction of religion as batshit insane and problematic, he approaches his subjects on their home turf (be it a truck stop church, the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando, or in front of the Vatican), engages them in conversation, and lets them answer his questions and explain their opinions. Sure, often he just gets bullshit responses like “'What if you die and find out you're wrong?,” and his subjects frequently can’t or won’t answer a simple question, but it’s hard to quibble with the methods, and one can’t say he has them at an unfair advantage.

Maher and director Larry Charles use the editing process to get the last laugh (breaking up the interviews with goofy stock footage, Bible cartoons and pop songs), which perhaps was unnecessary – the footage speaks for itself – but in its defense, they tend to just underline the filmmakers’ viewpoints, not diminish or alter their subjects’ responses. The underlying question the film seems to be asking is “Why is believing things without evidence good?” (i.e.: why is ‘faith’ a virtue?) and goes on to conclude, over and over again, that it isn’t. Thankfully, due to Maher and Charles’ bountiful wit, this isn’t a stark polemic, but a supremely entertaining doc that could just as easily function as a very funny comedy, regardless of your religious viewpoint (or lack thereof). What’s most interesting here is that, while it’s obvious Maher is sincere and passionate about this subject, he chiefly goes after the core tenets of the belief systems, not really the evil/violent/destructive things that come out of them (Islam bears the brunt of this criticism). As the title indicates, the film focuses more on the ridiculousness of the beliefs; for instance, child abuse by priests scarcely earns a mention. Where things do get serious, however, is in the final moments of the film where Maher lays the thesis statement behind the film bare, and delves into where society is likely headed if the religion “problem” isn’t corrected. It’s a ballsy, disturbing and debate-inspiring way to close out the proceedings, and I, for one, look forward to the conversations in theater lobbies.


Post a Comment

<< Home