Everybody already knows that religion is a touchy topic, so we don’t need a movie to tell us that. (Especially one with the keeping-it-real-comedian, Bill Maher). But the wonderful thing about Religulous is that it’s so entertaining that I can’t even think of the most devout Jesus freak who wouldn’t smile at least once watching this film.
Bill Maher is a genius. No matter what you might have thought of Politically Incorrect or what you currently think of Real Time With Bill Maher, he’s a genius, and this is not something I ever thought before watching this movie. The brilliant thing about this documentary, which, as noted in the commentary (more on that later), was NOT included in the Academy’s list of best docs of last year, is that it manages to give a clear, defining point against religion and still be completely entertaining. I attribute that to Maher’s capability to not be malicious about his beliefs, and to talk to intelligent, passionate, and undoubtably kind people who are willing to put their faith on the line and talk to (And I’m serious about this) a modern day Socrates; one who doesn’t pull any punches and most importantly, asks the key question of, “Just how do really you know?” It’s the responses that he gets from that question that make this movie stand head over shoulders over any other answer-seeking doc in the past five years or so.
You see, unlike somebody like Michael Moore, Maher goes in with a clear set of ideas but doesn’t lord them over the people he interviews. Instead, he asks his questions, waits for a response, and judges his next question on what that person had to say before he starts judging whether they know what their talking about or not. Really, if anything, Religulous is a film about a man seeking answers for why he feels Atheism is the way to go, instead of a back-handed slap to any religion that opposes it. Case in point is a scene with a Jesus recreationist in Florida who dresses and acts the part of the savior. Maher is never condescending to the man and even admits that his comparison of the blessed trinity to water being a liquid, solid, and a gas, is a pretty good explanation for it, even though he doesn’t completely buy it. On the flip side of things is Michael "I’m right and you’re wrong" Moore, who would have probably cut that scene out, as it gives the naysayers something to point out as being a good counter-argument against his points.
Not to say that I don’t like Michael Moore or anything like that (I even get his newsletter), but Religulous, even though there’s no real connection to him and this movie, is the anti-Michael Moore documentary, as it doesn’t have a clear agenda to rally against the people, but rather, just to rally against the ideas that these people have set in place. In that way, I think less people would be offended by this film than say a Bowling for Colombine, as it doesn’t make the people who support their cause look like complete idiots, but rather, like people who believe in something and just haven’t seen the other side of things. Sure, Maher could have taken the easy path to get his points across by showing slack-jawed rednecks in the Bible belt area, but he doesn’t want to show the lowest common denominator. No, he wants to show politicians, scientists, and even (tried to show, at least) the Pope, just to see what their responses would be to some pretty literal questions.
The best thing about this film, which is usually the best thing about any documentary with a point, is that you feel that you actually learn something by the end of it. I’m not talking about anything that would make a Catholic priest throw in their collar or anything like that, but questions that might make some people start to question certain things that they might not have ever questioned before, as it made me do, a life-long Catholic. If that’s what Maher set out to do, then he succeeded - on more levels than he may ever know.
Not only is Bill Maher a genius, but he’s also one of the most interesting people in the world to listen to, as heard by the commentary on the disc as well as his “Monologues Around the World” special features. The commentary is especially something special, as Maher and director Larry Charles are cracking jokes from the very onset of the movie, even talking about how hard it was to “film” the beginning sequence of the Lions Gate logo with all the shifty gears and such. Maher and Charles continue on this comedic path, riffing on some of the people they interviewed, complaining about not being nominated for an Oscar, and bringing up the movie Casablanca any chance they get. If anything, it makes for some interesting discussion points throughout the entirety of the film.
One thing I would have liked to hear Maher talk about more, though, is the sections he filmed in the Muslim parts of the world. When watching the movie, I was seriously worried for Maher’s safety in those parts where he wasn’t taking seriously something some of the people there take VERY seriously—deathly serious, even—but he never really got to it. I guess it’s not as serious as the media makes it out to be. Also of interest is their take on which kind of religious people might have voted for Obama or not, which makes for some pretty hilarious asides during the commentary.
Next is the “Monologues Around the World,” feature, which is a nice added bonus as the scenes, which were far too long to ever include in the movie, still seem necessary to Maher’s overall thesis that he thinks religion is dumb. All of monologues bring his points closer to defining his tenets on Atheism and doubt, and might have made the movie even more controversial if they were actually kept in the film.
Finally, the deleted scenes, while interesting, once again prove to be delete-worthy in their existence, as most of them feature his guests talking more than Maher himself, which is never a good idea when you have such a master entertainer in the room. Trailers for other Lionsgate pictures round out the rest of the disc, but none of those movies look nearly as interesting as Religulous itself, which is usually the case with such a great film as this.