Review: Religulous: all the things that upset Bill Maher
« on: 2008-10-05 11:49:38 »
[Fritz]Thought this should be mentioned on CoV ... there is a trailer on the site
Source: Canada Movie Guide
Author: Jay Stone, canada.com
Starring: Bill Maher
Rating: Three-and-a-half stars out of five
A hilarious and sacrilegious documentary featuring Bill Maher, who travels the world challenging various church doctrines. Maher, who is very funny and well versed in the Bible, contends that faith is just an excuse for not thinking, and he hunts down the prejudices and bizarre tenets of several religions. It's a brave and challenging film, undone only by the relentlessness of its attacks. By the end, the exposes are exhausting.
Bill Maher in Religulous. (TVA Films)
Of all the things that upset Bill Maher about organized religion -- the way it has been used as an excuse to attack homosexuals, to keep down women, to start wars against people who believe something different, the way faith has become an excuse for not thinking -- the one that seems to stay with him the most is the idea of a talking snake.
It's all there in Genesis: the serpent that persuaded Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden apple that got them expelled from the Garden of Eden. To Maher, who sees the notion of God as a sort of cosmic Santa Claus with a similar likelihood of being true, the devil's own silver-tongued asp is the ideal symbol for the inherent absurdity of religious belief.
So in the proudly irreverent documentary Religulous, Maher tells Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) that one of the things that scares him about the mixture of belief and politics that defines American leadership is that his country is being led by a group of people who believe in a talking snake. "You don't have to pass an IQ test to serve in the Senate," answers Pryor, a man who is nonetheless -- as he makes clear -- deeply religious.
And so it goes. Religulous is directed by Larry Charles, who brings to the documentary the same sense of outrageous confrontation he showcased in Borat. Essentially, it's a couple of hours of Maher travelling the world and challenging people's faith. He asks a man who believes in heaven why he doesn't kill himself to enjoy the better world. He asks a group of born-again truckers in North Carolina how they can believe in the concepts of the virgin birth and original sin. He wonders how John Westcott of Exchange Ministries, a group that tries to "convert" gay men, why he is so opposed to homosexuality.
"Nobody's born gay," says Westcott.
"Really?," asks Maher. "Have you ever met Little Richard?"
That's the other part of Religulous. Maher, a stand-up comic who became a political commentator on the TV shows Politically Incorrect and Real Time, is fast on his feet -- he has to be, to avoid being socked in the nose -- and the movie doesn't just skewer religious belief, it does so with a smile (or, frequently, a smirk.) Maher has an air of self-amusement, as if he's standing outside the movie and the people he's talking to aren't even there. They get their say but the moviemakers have the last word: When Maher's not doing his shtick (after talking to the evangelical truckers, he pretends that they've stolen his wallet), the movie throws in scenes from movies about religion or adds snarky subtitles that undermine some of its subjects, a sneak attack that's also part of the humour.
Christians are not the only target: Maher also quizzes Muslim extremists and Jewish fundamentalists, including a man who sells appliances that help Orthodox Jews find loopholes in the laws against working on the Sabbath. He goes into disguise to preach the wild tenets of Scientology at Hyde Park in London, and visits disaffected Mormons in Salt Lake City to talk about the beliefs of that church, such as the notion that dark skin is God's curse, Christianity is an American religion, and that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri.
Most of all, though, Religulous attacks the uses (or misuses) of religion in creating divisions in the world. Maher asks why people talk about "God and country" when belief in God is supposed to transcend borders: John McCain is shown talking about America as a "Christian nation" but Maher notes that the founding fathers had no such notion and that, in fact, Thomas Jefferson came out with his own Bible that removed the supernatural aspects of Christianity.
The final message of Religulous is Maher's plea for a new doctrine: doubt, a doctrine that has no room for talking snakes. It's a brave argument in an increasingly fundamentalist world, only partially weakened by the relentlessness of Maher's attacks: you can only see so many people being laughed at for thinking that they're going to rise to heaven and return to earth on white horses. Religulous is almost done in by the richness of its targets.