Religulous is not a warm and endearing look at faith and religion—as is implied by the film’s title. Directed by Larry Charles, who also tackled taboo issues in Borat, and written by acerbic comedian Bill Maher this doc aims to expose religion for the sham it is and instill doubt in true believers. The worldwide journey backing up their thesis is surprisingly not as vicious and one-sided as you’d expect and is sure to pique interest and spark huge debates on both sides of the issue, making for a very healthy box office return.
Maher is our guide through the film’s quest to debunk religion in society. His agenda is to “promote doubt” in the Bible, asking questions of the far-fetched stories most hardcore believers blindly take as truth. Maher travels the world meeting different people with very different opinions of the Bible and its message. One of the first stops in his spiritual journey is a truck-stop church populated by Southern fanatics who seem ready to destroy the documentary crew for even implying that it’s OK to joke about the good book. As with most of Religulous, director Charles approaches the confrontation with a fly-on-the-wall touch, giving the film a very condensed and engaging one-on-one feel.
Maher’s interview subjects include an ex-gay minister, religious fundamentalists and even his own family, whom he quizzes on the origins of their faiths. It would be too easy for Maher to point fingers with immature glee for a whole movie—after all, anyone with a microphone can spout drivel. The big difference is how he approaches his subjects with intelligent questions that eschew ridicule in the interests of inspiring healthy debate. Traveling from America to Amsterdam and to the Vatican, Maher’s spiritual agenda obviously sides more with the non-believers (hence the film’s title), but is not uniformly exclusive to them. Christianity is not the only target in the film’s crosshairs: faith and religion of all walks of life are put under a microscope here. Muslims are interviewed toward the second half of the film and make strong arguments for and against organized religion and this section provides some of the film’s strongest moments.
Religulous will no doubt be swarmed with tons of protest and debate—potentially providing the film free publicity. People started attacking the film before its release. At the Toronto International Film Festival, hundreds of protesters were picketing the theatre hosting the film’s premiere and condemning anyone willing to sit through Maher’s rant on religion. All of this before anyone had seen a single frame of the movie. The truth is Religulous is a well-structured product of doubt, an argument of uncertainty that preaches to the choir but also manages to recruit new skeptics. As Maher has stated in previous interviews, if there is a God, here’s hoping he has a great sense of humor.
Cast: Bill Maher
Director: Larry Charles
Screenwriter: Bill Maher
Producers: Bill Maher, Palmer West and Jonah Smith
Rating: R for some language and sexual material
Runtime: 101 min.
Release Date: October 1 NY, October 3 exp.