Saturday, October 18, 2008

London Film Festival Day 4 - RELIGULOUS

RELIGULOUS is a disingenuous documentary by American comedian and atheist Bill Maher. Rather than investigate how intelligent people reconcile their faith with their rationality, Maher mocks them to their faces for the first ninety minutes of the film and then restates his own atheistic beliefs in an anti-religious diatribe for the final five minutes. Don't get me wrong - the wilfully ignorant and bigoted are no friends of mine and I agree with many of Maher's critiques of religious idiocy. But skewering zealots doesn't make for particularly insightful journalism - it's just as nasty and as lazy as taking candy from a baby. Sure, it's funny to see Maher put amusing sub-titles under a Democrat senator who is so inarticulate he makes up words. But I would far rather have seen Maher use his contacts to interview senators more seriously about how the separation of church and state is being eroded.

In the final analysis, RELIGULOUS is a movie that is intensely funny but fails to satisfy on an intellectual level. Maher gets far less traction when he talks to moderates, which is perhaps why they take up such a small portion of his film. We do need a serious discussion about the rise of theocratic strands in US politics, and the challenge that liberal democracies face in dealing with intolerant minority groups. Sadly, this film isn't it.

RELIGULOUS played Toronto and London 2008. It is currently on release in the USA and Canada. It opens on November 5th in Belgium and Germany; on November 27th in the Netherlands and Iceland; on December 4th in Portugal and Italy and on January 21st in France.

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