Bill Maher knows he’s right about religion. He does. He knows that the world would have a net improvement if we scraped off the superstition-based philosophies that hold sway in society. It’s just that he sometimes becomes less effective at selling it when he shows that and this movie is, above all else, about marketing that idea.
Truth be told, I agree with him in principle. The question is not whether he’s right, though, it is whether he created an effective and entertaining vehicle to market the fact.
My wife, and I, went to see Bill Maher’s new movie Religulous on opening day. This is particularly interesting because it was her idea and she’s Catholic. It was an early show, so we didn’t expect the attendence to be high, it wasn’t. There were about a dozen people in the most popular multiplex in town. That was OK. My disappointment? No protesters. I really wanted them. Maybe when they make a movie called “All Religions are Stupid and Should be Abolished” I’ll get my protesters.
So, you know what you’re going to get, right? Bill Maher making faith and people of faith look silly. Yes and no.
The movie is a mix of interviews and ruminations. All of it is peppered with movie clips that are, at best, hilarious. Sometimes the clips are a little too biting, too denigrating. Enough to make an avowed rationalist cringe a bit.
Where did Maher go to ask questions about religion? Where didn’t he go? Israel, Rome, England, The Netherlands, The South and Washington D.C. He visited a trucker church, a mosque, the Vatican and a Jesus theme park. He spoke to priests, ministers, lay people, Jesus impersonators and Jesus (well, he thought he was Jesus).
We was definitely most effective when he was questioning sincerely and listening to the answers. I think he found the men at the trucker church earnest and endearing. He treated them well and got great stuff in return. His interview with Senator Mark Pryor from Arkansas was excellent, he let Senator Pryor express his own views. (He seemed like an decent guy, who just bought the wrong bill of goods.)
Not so effective was his time with an anti-zionist Jew who met with Ahmedinijad and was in clips hugging the nutty Iranian President. I was left feeling there was a great deal to the interview we didn’t see. Certainly, there wasn’t enough to justify Maher’s curt reaction to him. This was one of the segments where, even if you agress with Maher, you’re left feeling like he was acting a bit dick-ish.
There were some very funny subtitles during other interviews which reminded me of “The Word” segment from The Colbert Report. Those were funny and informative. Very effective.
Surprisingly, other than not allowing him an official interview in the Vatican, the Catholics came of pretty well. This might be due to Maher’s Catholic upbringing which was discussed in personal reminiscences with his mother and sister. Father Coyne, former head of the Vatican observatory, was typically eloquent, knowlegable and reasonable. Also, there was a very amusing and liberal priest who was interviewed outside the Vatican. Clearly, he didn’t represent the Vatican’s policies, but he was funny.
Maher closing argument was well thought out and delivered poignantly. Punctuated with imagery of violence, it was effective and moving. I thought it was perfect.
So, how was Religulous? It was good. It could have been great. Bill Maher is funny and he has a clear message to deliver. It is mostly well delivered. Unfortunately, it isn’t the unbiased, graceful delivery that would be most effective at getting people of faith to listen. He’ll be preaching to the faithful. They’ll enjoy it, as I did.
My wife enjoyed it as well. We talked about the movie afterwards. I think it is definitely a conversation starter. She commented that it was amazing that this movie was made and in pretty wide distribution. We thought that was a pretty hopeful sign.
“We need more people speaking out. This country is not overrun with rebels and free thinkers. It’s overrun with sheep and conformists.” – Bill Maher