Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Next Stop, Jesus! - Religulous (2008)

The first thing you should know about this documentary is that it was directed by Larry Charles. The same Larry Charles that directed Borat. So right off the bat, you know this isn't going to be a totally even-handed affair. The film is by no means vitriolic or demeaning, but it has its moments that are obviously skewed. I happen to agree with everything Bill Maher says in this documentary, but I also understand that it's not going to win anyone over who doesn't see things the way he does. But that's not really the reason I watched Religulous. I wasn't looking for Maher to present scientific evidence or fully construct logical arguments. Honestly, I was watching this film so I could see the crazy people and laugh at them. And in that regard, Religulous did exactly what I wanted.

The whole thing is basically Bill Maher traveling around, interviewing believers and non-believers alike, asking questions about their faith, and cracking some jokes at their expense. Before seeing the film, you might think Maher utterly trashes anyone who believes in God. But at its heart, it's not a venemous film. Maher, for the most part, respects the people he's interviewing enough to let them explain their position, and afterwards ask them serious questions. Sure, here and there he adds some off-color joke aimed at the religion his interviewee is part of, and it's funny. To me. If you're religious, probably not quite as much. But still, even if you're religious, you have to give him his overall civility. There were countless times where, if it were me, I would probably get a little rude or condescending towards some of these people. The ex-gay minister who doesn't believe anyone is really gay comes to mind. That just smacks of ignoring your own desires, but whatever.

Maher goes everywhere from Israel, to the Bible belt, to the Netherlands, and to the heart of Mormon Utah. Speaking of Utah, those fucking guys have quite a setup there. It's almost, if not just as ornate as the Vatican. In Italy. As in Europe, where their architecture is actually pleasing to stare at for more than five seconds. Yea, I was surprised to see that shit in Utah. Props on that. But besides that, you really have to be hardcore to believe the stuff they do. I'm just saying. Mormons also don't seem to be very inviting to outsiders, since just the mere sight of Maher sent the Mormon Enforcement Brigade into their midst to drive them away. An even more amusing fact was that Maher actually tried to get an interview with the Pope. He failed, but still. However, he did find an actual Vatican priest who holds some pretty unconventional views about his own faith. I'll put up a little clip of him below. He deserves it. Among the other colorful characters is a dude who believes he is the second coming of Christ, a weed-smoking spiritualist who doesn't really know what the fuck he believes in, and a Jewish guy who invents(or cheats, IMO) his way around restrictions on the Sabbath. If nothing else, you could say Religulous asks the same basic questions of every religion, and it doesn't come off as picking on anyone more than the rest.

All in all, your mind is already made up whether or not you believe one word that comes out of Bill Maher's mouth when it comes to religion. You either believe or you don't. So it's armed with that knowledge that I ask you to just watch it for fun. Regardless of your personal beliefs, at least watch it and form an opinion afterward, not the other way around. If nothing else, it can serve as a nice jumping-off point for a serious discussion with those you know of differing faiths. Or, if you agree, it's a great film to pop in and have some laughs while still engaging your brain a tad bit.

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