Religulous (2008) (R)

I was raised in the Christian church. So was Bill Maher. He was raised Catholic though his mother was Jewish—his family didn't speak of the differences in their religions and his mother never attended church. For me, I was in the church for many more years that Bill Maher and it was never such a large part of his life as it was in mine. I think we both came to the same conclusion about religion through hugely different ways; but that's not really the point.The point is that both Bill is perhaps more interesting than religion itself. Sure the stories the Old and New Testament tell are hugely entertaining, existing on a spectrum of disturbing, and can be gleaned for moralistic purposes; but Larry Charles (the director of "Borat") makes a very wise decision: he focuses on Bill Maher rather than the institution itself.
Because a documentary about religion itself wouldn't be half as spicy, offensive, or fun as "Religulous" is. The nuances to the doctrine and the dogma have little over Bill Maher talking about Christianity to a man dressed up as Jesus in an amusement park meant to mirror Israel.
The movie opens in the spot of the supposed Armageddon and Bill is there in the middle explaining how this is going to be a movie exploring the "why's" or religion. In his standup, Maher often targeted religion but never really questioned god him or herself. So that's what this movie is supposed to do: stare God right in the face and ask "what the hell, man?" or so Maher would have us believe.
I suppose you could understand right now that much of "Religulous" is fairly sacrilegious and many interviewees gasp at Maher's gall. To be perfectly honest, he's really not that offensive and manages to maintain a fairly civil head when discussing religions with people.
This is the point of the movie: religion will turn your brain into mush and make babbling fools out of you. It's not exactly subtle that way. Maher finds a way to cut right through all the crap and ask the difficult questions like "you do know this doesn't make historical sense, how do you explain that?"
Most of the time we watch the movie through the lens of Maher and his predispositions to be rude, the devil's advocate if you will. As such, if you're a religious person, you'll probably hate "Religulous" because you find it insulting and more than a little irreverent.
But here's where I have to stop you.
You should watch the movie, not because it's any spectacular feat of movie-making or hilarious brother to "Borat" but simply because it will open your eyes to questions that you may not have had. Consider Bill Maher (who more than once promotes himself to Messiah levels) as the doubt that you need to have in your life. A religion untested is assumed as fact. This movie will either sharpen your own thoughts or help destroy them, I think either one is a good thing.
"Religulous" works best as an exercise of doubt and questioning, the kind of movie that exists just to be the thorn in someone's flesh. Is that pretty? No. Does that make it essential viewing? Yes.
Back to the movie:
Maher bites off way more than he can chew and obviously Christianity and Catholicism are his main targets, thus most of the movie deals with them. However, he does try to work in as many religions as possible and Islam is the next on his list as well as Judaism and even the religion and utilizes marijuana. He tackles each one with the some ferocity as the last, but his knowledge of Christianity is so expansive that it does not compare to the rest...thus, we feel shortchanged by the time spent on other religions.
This is a matter of debunking, or attempted debunking at least, and we really don't get a comprehensive argument on anything but Christianity. Thus, we fall short and then the movie changes its tone.
Larry Charles spends most of the movie focusing on Bill and how Bill deals with situations; but near the end, the apocalyptic takes over and Maher tells his audience that religion must be abolished completely or else we'll all destroy ourselves
The turn for the preachy doesn't work and we're left with a sour taste in our mouths.
It's just kind of a cop-out. Nuance turns into something a little less fun: preaching...ironic, isn't it?



  1. Micah, I agree totally. I am a big fan of Bill Maher and liked this movie, but then it got so PREACHY about the dangers of religion and how atheism is the ONLY belief system. What a crock! I respect Maher's beliefs, but do not share them!
    Another great review!