“Religulous” could have been one of the most important films released in the last twenty years. Not significant for having artistic merit in a cinematic sense, but rather, to become the catalyst for a badly needed major societal paradigm shift. A shift away from humanity being held captive to their evolutionarily derived archaic traditions and beliefs, and toward a more compassionate, science-embracing culture. Literally, this movie could have brought about less human suffering in the world. Instead, “Religulous” relegates itself to preaching to a choir of atheists, with no hope of converting the non-non-believers(not a typo). What could have been an effective didactic tool, ends up as a series of punch lines. The only mission accomplished was reaffirming seemingly irretractable stereotypes that exist for members from both sides of the debate. While the movie was both entertaining and humorous, I would give back every chuckle to remake this film as Trojan horse : A step by step dismantling of the inherent hypocrisy and dangers of religion disguised in the packaging of a non-confrontational, palatable, light-hearted comedy. Needless to say, I left the theater with some massive cerebral blue balls.
Don’t believe me that some little movie can actually produce dramatic, substantial real world results? In case you forgot about the major role that movie propaganda played during WWII, just look at how it continues to cause reactions in today’s headlines. The low-budget film : “Innocence of Muslims” has caused chaos (in the form of murders and riots) throughout the Middle East almost instantaneously after it’s release. And I’m using the term “release” lightly, since this was a self-produced movie with almost no budget or promotion. Such is the power of film.
Bill Maher wrote and starred in the movie, while Larry Charles directed. Before I give my take on Bill, let me first say that I am a HUGE Larry Charles fan. Everything this guy contributes to(Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Borat, etc) directly speaks to my sense of humor. If nothing else, he’s got great style and a keen wit. Months before the film’s release, I found out he was attached to the project and became incredibly excited. I knew Bill Maher, on the other hand, was going to be more of a crapshoot. I agree with 90% of Bill Maher’s agenda. From religion, to global warming, to equal rights – I’m on board. It’s mostly his methodology that I take issue with. He’s too emotional. He’s too close minded. He’s not good at assessing his own hypocrisies, which makes him an inefficient spokesperson for such important issues.
I don’t want to lose sight of the bigger picture here though. Let me give proper credit where it’s due. To even attempt to question and poke fun at religion in 2008, was still a bold move. I can’t point to another movie before this one that even comes close to positing these kinds of controversial premises. This production team, as well as Thousand Words studio and Lionsgate(dist), had the courage to put their balls out on the table. I can’t discount that kind of envelope-pushing bravery, and for that, I applaud them. Just look at the actions committed by extremists from any religion, and tell me you wouldn’t be terrified to attach your name to a project with this kind of publicity.
So, to recap…. Yes, this movie has some amazing characters in it. Yes, it’s a funny and boundary pushing mockumentary. Yes, I enjoyed watching it. But, Bill just couldn’t fucking help himself. He had to get high on camera in the movie. He just had to push all his agendas at once. The stereotypes held by most conservative religious people concerning Bill Maher is that he’s a liberal, pot-smoking, elitist, snob who thinks he better than you. Looking back at this movie, I’d say he did a great job confirming everyone’s suspicions, and completely alienating the most important audience of all : those people on the fence who might actually listen to an atheist or agnostic point of view. Instead of trying to be fair and reach out to them(so they might actually relate), he effectively plays into all their fears by talking down to the fringe members of each institution. Picking on absolute raving lunatics who, while entertaining to watch, certainly don’t make people of faith feel like their point of view is well represented.
I just don’t understand the point of going through all of this risk and trouble for a couple of jokes. Doesn’t he want to see some real change take place?? I don’t personally know Mr. Maher, but I imagine if I confronted him with this point, he would say something to the effect of : “I don’t give a shit what those people think about me”. Well Bill, you really should reconsider that stance.
This is why I get irritated that he’s become the mouthpiece for many issues I feel passionate about. He’s just terribly ineffective in making a persuasive argument. I personally detest drugs of any sort. Yet, I am pro-legalization of marijuana. I have my reasons for these seemingly contradictory beliefs. But, if I were making a movie about the dangers of religion, I don’t know why bringing these facts up would be at all relevant to my overall message. In the particular case of “Religulous”, it does nothing but detract. Whether marijuana should be legalized or not is a separate issue. Yet, he just HAD to find a way to get high on camera in this movie. So, he found some completely off-topic fringe cult that worships weed or something, so he could accomplish his goal. It’s like he’s a god damn kid, stuck in his “rebellion for the sake of rebellion” stage. He needs to grow up and have a definitive point for his revolution. Either that, or he should go spearhead the “occupy” movement, since their very platform itself is to never have a clear message. I guess this whole thing is just very frustrating to me. On the one hand, this film broke new ground and was amusing. On the other, it should have been so much more. So, in conclusion: bold work and fuck you.
Overall Rating : 7.5/10