Movie Review for Religulous (2008)

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Review #697 of 365
Movie Review of Religulous (2008) [R] 101 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $11.75
Where Viewed: Landmark Chez Artiste, Denver, CO
When Seen: 24 September 2008 @ 7:00 pm
DVD Release Date: Unscheduled (please check back)
After the Credits:

Soundtrack: order the CD below

Directed by: Larry Charles (Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan)
0: Bill Maher ("Real Time with Bill Maher")

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Steve Burg (debut) • Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda (debut) • Bill Maher ("Real Time with Bill Maher ") • Andrew Newberg (What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole)

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I'm not sure of the advertising angle being used to promote Bill Maher's new documentary on religion called Religulous, which proclaims the film uses the same director, Larry Charles as Borat! Is this the new badge of honor on a résumé? Well, frequent readers know my opinion of Borat wasn't so great, especially when it came to the analysis of religion, so I went into Religulous with a health degree of skepticism that would have never arisen were it not for the blurb on the posters. One thing I can say now after having seen both films is that either Larry Charles isn't a very good director, or he's very good from the eyes of the self-indulgent star making the movie. The former because these two films have a jumbled, "let's throw everything in but the kitchen sink and hope it doesn't sink under its own weight" feel to them. The latter because if you're making a film that's really not a film, but rather a vehicle for the exposition of the star (which is the case in both films), maybe you want a director that simply lets you do what you want and doesn't say much. Only knowing Bill Maher via his performances, and make no mistake that they are performances, I would tend to give Larry Charles the benefit of the doubt on this point.

So, what is Religulous? Well, it's hard to describe. It is called a documentary. And if it is that, it is in the sense that it's not a scripted feature film with actors playing characters and telling a story. It is not, however, a documentary in that it takes unbiased cameras into unforeseen territory and films the reality of what's going on to expose it to people who don't know. Likewise, it is not a documentary in the sense of Michael Moore's genre which differs slightly because you do see him running around trying to talk to and interview people, but you still get the sense from his documentaries that they are not about him, they are about the subject. Well, in the case of Religulous, the documentary is literally also about Bill Maher. In that sense, it's arguable not a documentary film at all, it's an extension of his television show out in to the world. Most documentarians don't point the lens on themselves, interview their families, and spend ½ the time on screen pontificating about their own view of the subject. Rather, they realize that a more powerful film-going experience is to just show the stuff to let people make up or draw their own conclusions. But, Bill Maher wouldn't be Bill Maher if he trusted that to happen on its own organically.

… disdainful … Bill Maher comes across as preaching to his choir and offending the rest.
And this is one of the film's failings. Bill Maher exhibits, intentionally or unintentionally, complete disdain for his audience and a basic belief they are unintelligent. People who already agree with him on every point aren't as likely to notice it, but those on the opposition will find it insufferable. Had he taken the time to get to understand this film genre or a director who would have stood up to him and said "no", the film might have been far more successful in achieving what seem to have been its goals. Instead, the film comes across as preaching to his choir and offending the rest. Ironically, Bill Maher has made a living out of offending people, so he's probably not bothered by that comment. Nonetheless, it's too bad he didn't choose to take the traditional approach in his documentary because he might have won over more people to his cause—is it a cause(?), well, to watch the movie you'd think it was, at least for him.

His objective seems to be to point out that by subscribing to virtually any religious faith on the planet, human beings subjugate themselves to a set of man-made (no proof of divinely inspired) rules that decrease their freedom, force them to conspire to war, hatred, and other bad things; and for what but a promise for afterlife that's no one can prove is ever delivered. When you think about it that way, you have to admit he's got a point. When you think about it, it's kind of funny to think that people give away their life's savings, their hearts and souls of passionate belief, and years of their lives for something that no one as yet can prove exists. And, one of his best points in the film, which is one that I think nearly everyone can agree, is that we should be GOOD people, however specifically it's defined, because it is the right thing to be, not because there is an after-death benefit to being good. This is not his only good point. He's filled the film with a lot of very good points, and points that a lot of people, especially the deeply religious people will not want to hear. No Christians I've ever met want to hear that the Bible isn't the real and actual word of God, even if there's never been any historical implication that any of it is the word of God except for the Ten Commandments. The rest of it is stories written by people alive thousands of years ago about things they heard other people heard or think they saw. Bill doesn't push this issue as far as he could have, but he does take an interesting look at Jesus (not including going to the Bible Theme Park in Orlando and interviewing the guy who plays Jesus). Without going into all the details of the film, suffice it to say that he uses some powerful historical evidence to support that Jesus may not have been any more real than the 'saviors' most Christian USAers would argue were invented by other major civilizations alive at the time which all had remarkably similar backgrounds: virgin birth, special powers, walking on water, and so on. Here is a link to a site where the remarkable similarities between the Egyptian God Horus are illustrated in comparison to Jesus ( for those with an interest in this idea. Few Christians, I'm guessing accept that Horus was real and that there were Egyptian Gods. And yet, the proof of their existence, primarily the faith of the followers, is no less than that of the proof of the existence of Jesus or the God that the religious descendents of region: Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe in. Points and ideas like these, I feel, Bill Maher raises not to mock the believers but, rather, to get them into thinking about why they believe what they believe. After all most of us believe what we want and based on what we're told based on a ranking system we establish for ourselves as to whom to believe about what.

Another large part of the film is devoted to the amount of money various people earn after they convince people that giving them money will in some way get them closer to God. He primarily focuses on Christians in this area as there aren't multimillionaire Jewish or Muslim people who got to be rich TV evangelists—apparently that anti-proselytizing rule gets in the way in those other two religions. He handles the interviews with all the clergymen with, what I would argue, again is the wrong perspective.

… disjointed and dis-organized …
He treats them like guests on his show whom he's trying to get to fall into his trap. A better tact to take would to have been let their own words speak for and hang themselves. But, again, he doesn't trust that people will not be able to see the irony of a guy who's living it large on the backs of the people to which he's promising the Kingdom of Heaven as if he's got any say in that at all. Unfortunately, in taking this tact throughout the film, he undermines his point. If he really stands by his points, then the better way to have made them would have been to set them out there and let people decide.

All, in all, the film is disjointed and disorganized—in other words, not well-plotted out or edited. Which is kind of odd because this is not usually a criticism leveled at documentaries. While he has some excellent points, he probably alienates any but his most loyal followers from being willing to take the opportunity to see what he has to say. If you come across as disdainful of those you are trying to persuade in debate or discourse, you're may win in the eyes of the judges or your fans, but not in those you might actually trying to reach. Or maybe he was just intending to preach to the choir.

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Cast Members
Steve BurgJose Luis De Jesus MirandaBill Maher
Andrew Newberg
Larry Charles
Bill Maher

Review-lite Religulous (2008) [max of 150 words]
Because Bill Maher and director Larry Charles take a decidedly disdainful approach in their new 'documentary' Religulous on the failings of organized religion rather than one of respect and careful persuasion, the film merely preaches to his choir. Where he could have used his excellent points and ideas to persuade—was that his goal—those who follow blindly, instead he mocks and alienates the faithful. Worse, the film is highly disorganized and edited making it difficult to figure out where he's going with his ideas. He does have some good ideas and makes some excellent points, but those who could have benefited won't ever see them due to entrenched mode of presentation and misguided posters that belittle the faithful and their faith. He missed the point that maybe the faith in something isn't the bad thing, it might be the thing that people have faith in or how they come to this faith that might be the issue.

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