“Religion is detrimental to the progress of mankind”.
This is the thesis Bill Maher uses to introduce his film, Religulous, directed by Larry Charles (Borat). I wish it wasn’t so simple, but if you agree with his statement, this is your movie, if you don’t, it probably isn’t. However, I urge everyone to see it. While it likely wont be changing all people’s views on faith, it is thought provoking. This is probably the best conversation starter in theaters this year.
The director, Larry Charles is no newcomer to controversy. Two years ago he brought us the brilliant Borat, which immediately divided audiences with it’s offensive content. While Borat was accused of racism, it was actually meant to expose the prejudice of the “Land of the Free”. This time around, Charles is taking on religion which should spark even stronger controversy. Also, audiences will be divided within the first 30 seconds of the trailer. A shame, really, as this is one of the most thoughtful and powerful films of the year.
We follow famous stand-up comedian Bill Maher on his quest to prove not that there’s no God, but that it’s impossible to know if one exists. As he puts it, he preaches the church of “I don’t know”. He interviews people of various faiths, but Catholicism is his primary target. He pretty much only goes for the easy victims. For example, an actor performing as Jesus, a holocaust denying Rabbi and the people inside a truck stop chapel. While his choice in interviewees seems like cheating, Bill Maher actually gives them all a chance to have their say. He is surprisingly fair to everyone he interviews. OK, maybe not the Holocaust denier. Maher listens to everyone carefully. In each conversation he goes on to debunk everything they say, and he does so respectfully. It’s clear that Maher is very well read and informed. Of course, none of his subjects give in, but they do manage to make fools of themselves again and again, and make no mistake about it, Maher and Charles never cease to capitalize on their ignorance and they do it in hilarious fashion.
Religulous actually harbours some very sweet moments. One display of kindness and sincerity from a Christian found in the truck stop chapel is very powerful. Bill Maher asks the man to pray and the ensuing prayer is sincere and heartwarming. Maher isn’t looking to insult everyone with faith. What he wants is to point out the flaws of organized religion and have people reason with him, instead of having blind faith. He mentions being terrified by having a religious government. Again and again he points out how religion contributes to many of the world’s problems. Maher’s argument is a convincing one.
At the end of the film, he nearly pleads for the world to wake up and change. This is something I feared he would do. However, by the end of the movie he has done such a good job of supporting his ideas, that it comes off extremely well. The last few minutes are deathly serious and astoundingly powerful. I was moved and enraged. This is one of those rare movies that makes you want to do something about what it’s saying.
Unfortunately, I fear that Religulous will suffer from the “Fahrenheit 9/11” effect. By this I mean that only the supporters of the film’s cause will go see the movie, thus completely ruining the possible effect Bill Maher hopes it to have. Once again I urge everyone to see it, as it is one of the funniest movies of the year, It’s one of the most powerful, but moreover, it’s the most important.