Any half-intelligent person with a properly skeptical view of the idiotic belief systems required by all big-time religions will, I presume, feel satisfied if not comforted by Bill Maher and Larry CharlesReligulous (Lionsgate 10.3).
Christianity, until recently the most arrogant and blood-soaked of them all (until Islamic fundamentalists took the crown), receives the worst skewering, with particular attention paid to the hinterland right-wing nutbags and their endless capacity for vulgarity and simple-mindedness. Mormonism gets a couple of good tweaks as well. There can’t be too much of this sort of thing in my book, and hail to Maher (the star-writer-producer), Charles (the director) and all the people behind this pointed if mild-mannered doc for serving society’s best interests. Truly.
How funny is it? Somewhat. I was LQTM-ing for the most part. There were a few chuckles at the screening I attended, two or three haw-haws, but no horse laughs. But humor isn’t precisely the point. This is a very rational film about a rational point of view.
That said, there are two things that need to be understood about Religulous. They aren’t major stoppers, but they’ve been bothering me since I saw it a couple of weeks ago.
One, Charles hasn’t shot Religulous with an especially vivid sense of style or panache of any kind. He’s made it look and sound more or less like Morgan Spurlock‘s Where In The Hell is Osama Bin Laden? (Full dislosure: A friend said this after we saw it together, and I’m seconding the observation.) Two cameras, ground-level, tripod, hand-held, so-whatty. Somehow this doesn’t seem fitting for a doc that stirs thoughts about the Big Cosmic Altogether.
If I’d directed I would started things off with a moving-plane shot of big white clouds with Maher doing the voice-over. Square and sappy, sure, but a classic religious image that would pull viewers in and get things going. This is a Big Fundamental Subject, after all, and it needs some kind of visual correlative, even if the point is to make mince-meat of old-time beliefs. Religulous would have been a lot stronger, I swear, if it had somehow been directed by the ghost of Cecil B. DeMille, who, despite his ham-fisted Victorian hypocrisy, knew how to make you feel the presence of traditional “otherness.”
And two, Maher-the-rationalist doesn’t once acknowledge the general feeling known to all humans and animals since the beginning of intelligent life that there’s surely some kind of cosmic connectivity governing this and other worlds.
Point out the foolish and childish superstitions by all means, but Maher and Charles undercut their film by not once allowing that tens of millions of men, women, children, writers, theologians, mystics, painters, sculptors and simple men walking and starving in the desert over the past three or four thousand years have been stirred by a vague, hard-to-articulate sense that there’s a universal current and common design of some kind in every last aspect of creation. I don’t believe this myself — I know it.
Many if not most believers in this or that religion have come to this or that faith in order to hold onto some kind cohesive theory or dogma to explain the wonder of it all, even if what they’re finally given is nothing short of idiotic. Maher’s view is that we’re basically living in a world of random biological chance that has a way of dispensing meaningless pain and conflict on a daily basis. This is true in a sense, but there’s a uniformity to it anyway.
Maher and Charles should have sat down and thought a little bit harder about the ending of Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey before making Religulous. It would have been that much better if they had.