Friday, November 14, 2008

Religulous (2008)

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With no Michael Moore documentary (at least released in theaters) this year, and no other big name releasing a major film in the genre, Bill Maher of HBO's Real Time has stepped to the plate to tackle the issue of religion in his typical cynical, offensive, no-holds-barred style. Maher collaborates with director Larry Charles, of Borat and Seinfeld fame, to travel the world in search of mystery behind the nature of religion and faith. Those familiar with Maher already will know that he is a devout atheist and he does nothing to hide this throughout the film. This isn't an investigation into the good and bad of religion; this is Maher examining how religion has corrupted societies across the globe and contradicted its own foundations. Those who unflinchingly disagree with Maher may have trouble seeing through his rock solid bias, as his interviews involve half serious discussion of religion and half "are you serious?" mockery. His goal, however, seems to be more oriented toward opening up the conversation about the potential negative aspects of religion rather than driving home a distinct point like a Moore documentary. As the title suggests and the interviews reveal, there is a lot to be said about the irrationality behind some of the world's major religions. Religulous features shots at many of the world's most important "Holy Grounds" and contains interviews touching upon most of the major religions from leaders of those religions to average devotees like truck drivers. Although Maher always backs up his argument with factual information, he and Charles are comedians at heart and Religulous is the funniest religious movie you'll find on Netflix. There is no trickery here such as that which Charles' masterfully executed with Borat; microphones and cameras are intentionally shown on screen to make clear that all of the interview subjects were aware of the circumstances surrounding the film. Charles edits in many brief, seconds-long clips from the news, old movies, and old television shows between and during interviews that are often sarcastic, biting, and hilarious. Maher's deconstruction of religion from his own childhood and maturation reveal how those raised in faith may be attracted to new ideas. And in the long run, Maher's goal is simply that, to bring light to new ideas often trounced by political correctness or adherence to tradition. It's hard to find a large audience with a documentary, particularly one that openly mocks religion. But with Religulous, Maher has raised the dialogue about atheism and religious criticism from zero to something slightly above that without boring his audience and providing plenty of laughs with intellectual conversation.

Good for: Maher fans, open-minded thinkers

Bad for: the easily offended