guppy's film reviews

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Back from hiatus! Also reviewed this week: Quarantine.

Director: Bill Maher
Notable Actors: Bill Maher
Score: C
Summary: Mildly entertaining yet sneering and pointless quasi-documentary that will put off even people who agree.

I can't figure out why Religulous was made. I really wanted to like it -- I'm a longtime Bill Maher fan and our opinions tend to coincide. But it's nothing but a big middle finger to theists, and while atheists and agnostics will snicker, it just feels mean-spirited.

Religulous is basically footage of Bill Maher interviewing religiously-inclined strangers about their beliefs and ridiculing them for holding those beliefs. His stance is an agnostic one: he can't find any proof one way or the other, so he reasons that the only sensible position on religion is to be uncertain, and that those who express certainty are irrational because they can't possibly be certain. That position makes a lot of sense to me, because it's pretty much the one I hold. But from there the film veers off course. It simply doesn't have an audience.

If you're religious, it will be pretty hard for you to come away from Religulous without feeling tremendously insulted. Frequently it seems like that was the goal -- to shame religious viewers into reconsidering their beliefs. But I don't know a single person who responds that way to criticism. I think the instinctive reaction of religious viewers will be to turtle up angrily and ignore any salient arguments made.

If you aren't religious, there are some chuckles to be had, and I did enjoy them. Most of them are in the form of Pop-Up Video-like correction captions. But there are only a few really funny scenes, and I spent the rest of the time cringing at how badly I thought Maher's arguments would be received by their intended targets.

Religulous feels like a Maher vanity project. It apparently intends to convince the very people it's insulting, and I think that means making it was ultimately pointless. I can't recommend it.


  • I saw this too and somewhat disagree. To begin with, I actually found it pretty funny.

    But outside of that, I also found it sort of thought provoking, and interesting as well. For instance, I found the interview with the Vatican's astronomer to be fascinating, and he actually said something really simple that I had never really thought of before.

    And to be completely honest, I think he was actually (somewhat) respectful of people's beliefs, but wanted to sort of prod them into backing up their beliefs. And, some people didn't seem to have much of a problem with that (the guys at the truck stop church come to mind).

    My one complaint from the movie was the ending... He seemed to throw away his argument of just saying that people should be a little more skeptical and curious and instead attacked everyone who was even very "lightly" religious by saying that they're just making excuses for the fundamentalists. Despite his argument that he's an agnostic because he just doesn't know, this seemed to veer into somewhat "hardcore" oppositional atheism. I suppose there's sort of a nice purity to the argument, but I don't think it really works. Imo, I think he'd be better off arguing that people can believe whatever they want to believe as long as they don't infringe on other people's rights, and don't use those beliefs to be intolerant of people who may not necessarily agree with you.

    In other words, can't we all just get along? ;)

    By Blogger Jeff, at 11:48 PM  

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