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Oct 5, 2008

Fletch's Film Review: Religulous

How does the old saying go? Don't talk about religion and politics in public?

If that saying seems like its from another time, it's probably because a) it is, and b) it's not really relevant anymore, or at least practiced by the masses. Try as I might to avoid the topics in my workplace (mostly because my beliefs don't really mesh with the general public's), they invariably come up - the latter (politics) even more so this time of year.

More than anything else, the feeling I got while watching Religulous was joy. In an era where one's religious beliefs are not only talked about constantly nationwide but globally (I'd bet most of us know what Sarah Palin believes, but not what FDR did), it's refreshing to know that the dissenting opinions of Bill Maher and director Larry Charles (Borat, Seinfeld) are being aired on a big screen near you. Well, near you if you're in a near a big city, at least. The two real mavericks have set about to question the thoughts and belief systems of spiritual leaders and common folks the world 'round, and the results are, if not shocking, at least hilarious.

It surprises me somewhat that Charles chose Religulous to be his feature follow-up to Borat, since the two are structured so similarly, and will likely please and anger the same sets of folks, more or less. Via man-on-the-street interviews, video clips, subtitles, and more, Maher roams around the world and back, with the same simple question over and over for his subjects - "Why?" Why do they believe what they believe? Why do they not question their holy books and spiritual leaders? Why don't they - pardon the offense - use common sense when called for, such as when he goes to the Creation Museum, a place where dino-babies and children are shown to be playing near the same babbling brook, intimating that humans and dinosaurs not only roamed the earth simultaneously, but coexisted peacefully?

As much as some of Maher's targets are easy pickings, I am sad to say that, because of that, he and his film will most likely be easy targets as well. By and large, I can't possibly think that the subjects of his interviews are not the best representation of believers worldwide - he starts at a Trucker's Chapel (just like it sounds), hits the aforementioned Creation Museum, and even hits the Holy Land Experience in Orlando and talks to "Jesus" - er, the guy that plays Jesus daily. It's not all this way, though (he speaks with a U.S. Senator, after all, and a Democrat at that), and it's not for a lack of trying. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Charles had this to say when asked about the easy targets: "Believe me, we tried to get an audience with the Pope. We tried to get the head of the Church of Scientology. There are so many layers of bureaucracy, you can't get to them. So you move down the line until you find somebody willing to talk."

Whether or not Religulous will be any more successful at conversion or "outing" (other pre-existing non-believers, another chief goal for Maher) than Borat was at pointing a mirror to America remains to be seen. Maher's unrelenting smirk and attitude will be hard for true believers to stomach, with them most likely walking away feeling mocked (and rightfully so, at times). But at the very least, it's safe to say that he is fair and balanced, questioning and mocking those of all walks of life and most all creeds spoken about in the Western world (Hinduism and Buddhism are spared, but considering the "press" they're given locally, that's understandable). And besides, it's success as a "documentary" takes a backseat to its success as entertainment - it's an uproariously good time, and I'll get down on my knees and pray for that any day of the week.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"It's in the hole!"

13 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Religulous"

Nic Cage said...

"Oh there you go again Fletch, talking about the past..."

I cannot WAIT to see this flick!

Robb said...

I dunno Fletch. I laughed a lot during this movie, but more than joy I ended up feeling a bit depressed. I know a lot of very religious people, but none of them think we lived with dinosaurs - I just can't conceive of how people can ignore common sense science like that, and don't even get me started on Sarah Palin. I was desperate for a longer interview with the astronomist priest from the Vatican, who seemed to be a person of faith who had found a way to balance his beliefs with the knowledge that he'd gained from science.

At the same time, I think Maher takes a hard line against faith, perhaps harder than he needs to given that he freely admits he isn't an atheist himself, but just someone who admits he doesn't know - his rant on the virtue of doubt was for me one of the strongest sections in the movie. But the interview with that poor ex-gay guy? That dude was in so far over his head I just felt sorry for him.

Pat said...

I'm a person of faith myself(although, like Robb's friends, not one who believes that humans and dinosaurs co-existed.) However, I love Maher and even when I don't agree with him, I find him entertaining and provocative. "Religulous" sounds very much in the same vein as his HBO show and his stand-up comedy, and I'm sure I will enjoy it, even it occassionally goes too far.

Sheamus the... said...

Yeah... i am wanting to see this more and more.

It's good to look in the mirror every now and again.

Farzan said...

This movie was funny

Dead Pan said...

As a Christian, most of the people I know find it odd that I am intensly anticipating finally seeing Religulous. My one main complaint with the trailer is that Maher seems to stick to easy targets, as you say, and I think the film seems like it isn't filled with as much depth as I would like. This isn't to say I am still not ready like hell to hear Maher blast my beliefs to high heaven. While I am sure I don't agree with most of these people he interviews, as I am a religous secularist, I am excited to see if he does hit any of my actual beliefs to allow me to rethink why I believe such a crazy thing as someone who can hear everyone talking to him at once. It's a crazy belief, this is true.

Fletch said...

Deadpan, Pat and Robb (this kind of touches on all your points) - Yes, the targets are mostly easy ones, but not all of them. And I think the thing that you get that many (even those that agree with Maher) don't is that Maher's not out to attack you or your beliefs. Sure, he pokes fun at some of the easy ones (that just about all of us would agree deserve poking fun at), but by and large, his problem is with the beliefs themselves (and of course, organized religion) more than with believers themselves. He's more worried about the fringe folks and what they believe, and what those beliefs may lead them to do in the name of their god, than with the other 95%.

Shea - what's going on, brother?

Nic - I think Mrs. Fletch and I are up for seeing it again. We oughta drag you along...is Mrs. Cage interested in seeing it?

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

The problem is that currently, the "easy targets" are running America and are running for office.

Daniel Getahun said...

I didn't rush out to see Religulous, not because I'm a believer, but because even the atheists I know said it lacked any intelligent or meaningful conversation, that it was a Michael Moore style "documentary". You don't say much to convince me otherwise here, but I still don't really have a problem with this movie, or with Maher. I just think that these one-sided films are really only useful for entertaining, whether it be Religulous, Expelled (which I also skipped), or any Michael Moore production after 1992.

I don't think people are so rigid in their beliefs that they aren't willing to interact with people who disagree with them, but why expend so much energy when the point is to debate more than it is to dialogue?. There's a difference. This rabble-rousing is the reason why you can't trust neoconservative Fox News or bleeding heart liberal CNN, and it's why this presidential campaign is reaching the lowest level of human interaction.

I'm not taking Religulous to task here, or your fair review. I've just been get an ant in my pants about partisanship in all walks of life and I'm using this post as a soapbox.

Fletch said...

Paul - excellent point. They're peas in a pod, and I'm not a big fan of peas.

Daniel - You say this: "I just think that these one-sided films are really only useful for entertaining."

Now, anyone that knows who Maher is knows that he's about as far from two-sided (equal time) as can be, so it should come as no surprise that the film is (mostly) one-sided. Yes, it's point is entertainment, but is that to say that we can't learn something or take some greater meaning away from our "entertainment?" Surely all the folks writing about the deeper meaning of a film starring a man in a bat suit would agree with me.

My point is this: Maher and Moore are not, have not, and never will present themselves as an objective news source, but that doesn't mean that what they have to say should be discounted for that reason alone.

Daniel Getahun said...

You're very right on that last point, and incidentally I should say that I've not seen Maher take himself nearly as seriously as Moore usually does in that respect.

I actually planned on seeing this last week but then got caught in an errand. I'll see it if I have another chance, but based on what most people say, excluding you, I'm probably not going to make an effort to go out of my way for it.

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