Ask me anything you want about Religulous. I’ve watched it more times that Bill Maher himself has and studied it more than would be considered normal. So unless you want to know how the title is pronounced, everything else I can help you with. And the most important thing to clear up straight from the beginning, is that this is a very insulting documentary to anyone who just accepts and believes. Anyone who blindly takes part in organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, Scientology, Islam and so on. But in the film’s defence, it is very easy to insult these people and you eventually get them angry even if you don’t speak up.
However, people who believe in a certain God consciously and after putting some thought into it, as well as non-believers, will find Religulous thought provoking, daring, sensible and ingeniously sarcastic. Released in 2008, the documentary is written by comedy master Bill Maher who also stars in it and who spends 101 minutes examining how flawed the basis of certain religious beliefs seems to be. Larry Charles (Curb Your Enthusiasm) directs this adventurous road trip from Jerusalem to Salt Lake City and the Vatican, during which a number of eccentric Christians, Muslims and Jews are interviewed by the host.
Bill Maher maintains an expression of disbelief on his face from the very beginning of the film until the end. Sometimes he bursts out laughing, other times he gets slightly annoyed, but in general he is rather amused by the madness surrounding him and seems happy enough mocking it. Very intelligent, he has put a significant amount of research into this. He knows what he’s talking about and he’s not easy to leave speechless. However, his believers come across extremely naive and simple minded, which naturally makes them untrustworthy.
Now whether this is how most believers of such organized religions usually are, since they tend to accept anything they’re taught without questioning, or whether this is only how the ones that the documentary’s creator let through during the editing are, and whether they are only in the film because they make him look better, is not clear and the question is of course always lurking in our minds. Bill Maher comes across overly caustic, lets no one really speak, he talks over most of his interviewees, he openly laughs at them and even adds mocking subtitles to some of their statements or intercuts various of their comments with funny stock footage clips. The host and creator of the film is even given quite a bit of movie time to speak up in his car and to make his sarcastic remarks to everything that his interviewees have previously said.
Many have expressed the view that Religulous is a film which declares that whoever believes in God is a moron. Simple minded and uneducated. Many have also supported the notion of this being a movie that makes everybody with different opinions than the ones supported by Bill Maher and his crew, look bad. And of course many have used the film to get insulted just because they have no comeback to various views expressed.
However it seems to me like the case of Religulous as a documentary and the case of religion as an opinion being debated and in this case mocked is not that simple. What drives Maher to mock and appear arrogant, dismissive and intolerant is not merely the fact that his interviewees have different opinions than him and he wants to make them look unreliable. Rather, it is the fact that those opinions have led whole nations to world wars, extreme violence and shocking injustice. Apart from this, which does explain, at least to me, why he is attacking everyone and why he comes across offensive, he includes in the second part of his film two guests that turn everything that has been said during the first part, around. These are two priests from the Vatican, who bravely dismiss most Catholic teachings that every interviewee up until that point has sworn by, question the existence of Heaven and Hell and say that they wouldn’t really pray to Jesus in a time of crisis, since he has turned out to be quite undependable.
Religulous is insulting and disrespectful for some. Brave and provocative for others. And very funny and entertaining for everyone. As far as I’m concerned, this has been a film that I keep coming back to, and enjoy watching again and again. Mainly because it feels honest, because it dares to ask at a time where everyone seems to just know the answer. As Bill Maher at some point declares, “The other guys are selling certainty. Not me. I’m on the corner with doubt”. Which feels refreshing and nice to hear. We just might not have the answers to some things… And that’s ok, as long as we’re cool to each other.
Religulous at IMDb
Religulous at Rotten Tomatoes
Religulous at Wikipedia
Religulous (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb
London film festival: Why rightwing Christians need to see Religulous at The Guardian
Religious Satire at Wikipedia