Religulous ****

Religulous is the type of film that speaks to a specific audience.  It is made in a way that will not change anyone’s mind; agree with the idea and you’ll like the film, disagree and you will hate it.

American comedian and current affairs commentator Bill Maher is filmed speaking with numerous people around the world, asking them why they believe the things they do.  Maher is a sharp wit who says he’s looking for answers but in fact is looking for willing stooges, of which there are plenty.  Directed by Larry Charles, the man who directed Borat, the film is intent on milking as many laughs from the interviewees and the rather deep holes each dig themselves into through Maher’s insistent questioning.

Maher’s thesis isn’t necessarily revolutionary for this secular age: religion is a form of insanity that is the leading cause of most humanity’s misery and may actually lead to its destruction.  In making the film, he speaks with people from different faiths, including Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism and Scientology.  But rather than debating about meaning or ideas, Maher is simply looking for the weaknesses, poking holes in the inconsistencies and the mystical aspects.  These are intercut with clever subtitles and clips from films and TV programmes to further the comedic element.

It works rather well as a humorous take on religion.  It revels in showing off its well-researched facts that contradict a great deal of dogma and has a ball at letting Maher’s ‘victims’ hang themselves before the camera.  There are some huge laughs at the expense of these people, many of whom truly have it coming.

But as a debate in Maher’s thesis in the destructive nature of religion, the film is not on such solid footing.  Yes, religious belief certainly seems to be a seed in many of the wars and conflicts we find ourselves, but picking on Joe Blogs and his views as a way of proving this doesn’t hold water.  For a true debate on the ‘evils’ of belief, Maher needed to approach higher-powered people within religious communities than television Evangelists, curators at a misguided museum and an actor who is crucified daily in a theme park in Florida.

Anyone who has seen Maher’s stand-up or political commentary programmes knows that he is not afraid to go after the ‘big fish’ and that his monologues can be hilarious and thought-provoking, usually at the same time.  However, with his focus on easy targets and a final monologue that is passionate and angry but self-indulgent, the film isn’t the great debate or debunker it wants to be.

Instead, Religulous is a very funny look at the notion of faith and how many concepts, when examined with cold logic, fail to make sense.  It is not a film that will drive anyone to atheism, nor will it make anyone ‘see the light’.  But it will make you laugh; it will also make you think.

Religulous is currently in limited release and is rated 15 for language and disturbing images.


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