DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: RELIGULOUS

Thursday 26 February 2009


Religulous (2008) dir. Larry Charles


Anyone who has seen Bill Maher’s talk shows knows his opinion on religion. This travelogue documentary, in which he attempts to ‘discover’ how and why most of the educated world still clings to seemingly obsolete notions of religion, serves as a 90mins one-sided forum for Maher’s extreme opinions. Alas, it's often uproariously funny.

From the trailer parks of red state America to absurd evangelical compounds to the offices of ultra right wing Washington the Evangelical Christian movement are like ducks in a barrel. All religions are on target too. Extreme Judaism, Islam, Scientology all get shit upon as well.

Often Maher and his subjects are talking at cross purposes. No one makes the simple argument to combat Maher that the purpose of religion is not to follow it to the letter, but, in the case of Jesus, to use the example his pious life to improve one’s own. Maher concentrates on battling with zealots who refuse the word of science and make blockhead arguments for the real life existence of the mythological aspects of Christianity.

Like it or not, the film is as much about Bill Maher as it is about religion. Maher carries himself with an impenetrable confident swagger. He arrives at each interview armed with the weapons to battle any argument for religion. Most of the time he’s debating with people with less intellectual skills than himself, and so it’s easy-pickings.

If the film were about an honest and fair debate about religion we could fault Maher and Charles for their carefully-chosen subjects, but the film is about comedy. In fact, it could be argued that Maher’s global tour arguably is a standup routine masquerading as documentary. Like when comedians appear as guests on the Tonight Show, they can disguise their gags in the form of answers to interview questions, the wacky evangelists and zealots serve as sounding boards for Maher’s well rehearsed jokes.

Larry Charles is perhaps too blunt to intercut the absurd ridiculousness of his cooky crazies with bizarre retro videos to pull a few laughs. It’s a cheap tactic from the dirty book of propaganda 101, but with a certain degree of shame I found myself laughing.

If Maher weren’t so damned funny and articulate “Religulous” would be easy to dismiss. With a degree of guilt and maybe a confession at the end, we are given permission to laugh. Enjoy.

“Religulous” is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


Anonymous said...

Maher might as well have been shooting ducks with clipped wings in a pond. This movie could have been so good if he'd done everything he did AND provided some journalistic balance. That would have been brave and difficult. He chose the easy way.

Anonymous said...

I think that if all this religious people think they been had by this documentary then have the guts to speak out on this matter with Bill Maher on his show and challenge him. I don't think anyone can sum up a religious ideology specially all religion in an hour and a half.But I do get his message and I personally think that religion is the root of all the madness in the world and i hate when the people complain about him not adding all the humanitarian charities in this documentary on other blogs or reviews but i still don't see help for Sudan..It's all conventiance!