Religulous (Larry Charles, 2008)
Directed by Larry Charles. Running time: 101 minutes. Rating: 15.
Comedian and long time talkshow host Bill Maher takes a break from late night television to develop his rants at religion in Religulous, a documentary keen on keeping the laughter strong whilst claiming it is trying to understand the phenomenon of faith. It fails, but it doesn’t show much sincere interest in making sense of it, despite the opening professions to the contrary. Maher’s more at home meeting the most whacky and dogmatic religious people he can find and exposing their loopiness through lightheartedness, and the film’s perfectly fine for merely showing that. Just, please, spare us the closing-credit shots of bombs and guns which we’re presumably supposed to now perceive in terms of everything we’ve just seen. Whilst the Israel-Palestine conflict may indeed be contingent on the violent Judaeo-Islamic dynamic, that’s not what we’re shown here. It’s mildly laughable to say that, for all their idiocy, the South American man claiming to be the modern manifestation of Jesus and the Kentucky Christians who set up a creationist museum, depicting the harmonic coexistence of man and dinosaur, are responsible for widespread warfare. And yet that’s the type of person Religulous invites us to mock moments before its monumental pacifist turn.
Other standout encounters include young men from Mormon families explaining why the renouncement-rate is so low in Salt Lake (the crux: you become a social outcast), and there’s a particularly wonderful and idiosyncratic priest Maher finds at the Vatican, who happily concedes that the historical Jesus would laugh in the face of the modern church. And there is, of course, the obligatory Deep South Christian congressman so moronic as to shake even the most democratic of souls. But with Maher it’s always sure to be terribly funny even when predictably worrying. Religulous jumps around a little too much, in the sense both that the film lacks a narrative and any geographical coherence. But if you’re already onto the madness of most modern day religion, regardless of one’s own faith, it plays out like a collage of confirmatory case studies made more than amusing enough to be worth your time. If only the insight promised was also forthcoming.
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Tags: bill maher, larry charles, religulous