Director    Larry Charles
Starring    Bill Maher
Release    3 OCT (US) 3 APR (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


18th April 2009

There's a new kind of film on the block. And Religulous is it. To call it a documentary is a palpable nonsense: it's a documentary in the same way that a film without any CGI is a documentary - a record of staged events engineered to create and further an opinion. In effect, Religulous is a filmed thesis; a visual presentation of facts, scripture and evidence to reinforce a point of view. After years of being forced to sing hymns to spacemen I don't believe in and years of pledging allegiance to a flag people know nothing of, then I - like many people - see religion as a form of mental abuse: an indoctrination of a belief that could be very false, a wilful deception.

Aside from this, the film is the vehicle for the viewpoint of Bill Maher, who is both smart, erudite and very funny. There is an element of manipulation in the presentation, but no more and no less than any other film or documentary. It is never anything less than entertaining and engaging, and the viewer is never more than a moment from the humour of absurdity or laugh out loud contradiction.

Whilst some of you may see it as a tempting religious satire taking its cue from Borat (also from director Larry Charles), Religulous operates in a different and far more sophisticated sphere: instead of shitting in the Trump Tower, Bill Maher simply takes himself and a camera crew to meet various philosophers and figures, many religious, some profoundly not so, and asks questions. That's instead of being a parody and using that to reveal people's innermost selves, letting their answers and justifications - trying to rationalise the irrational - speak for themselves.

As a fierce agnostic - someone who relies on evidence, and were I to meet God, I'd believe in her - this film is neither pro nor anti-religion, but an exploration looking for an explanation. Why do people believe? And why do people believe in religions? What is faith but an opinion without supporting evidence?

Maher travels the world meeting all manner of believers - claimed reincarnations of Christ, actors playing Jesus in a theme park, Jewish uber-inventors who go to extraordinary lengths to circumvent the Judian beliefs of prohibited Sunday activities, a former Satanist, Jesus Truckers, and many other denominations. The film is edited with a fierce temper and literacy that pushes the envelope of interpretation - if nothing else it is a masterful example of how to manipulate the image to further the cause.

Religulous is a brave polemic that concludes with a rousing call to arms that connects the illogical inconsistencies of beliefs with the ultimate, disastrous consequences. Maher calls to arms the non-believers and suggests that not only is there nothing wrong with doubt, but that it is more honest to state you do not know than to suggest that you do know. Religulous is an extremely funny movie that decimates the subject with a ruthlessly logical viciousness and reveals to the believers exactly how absurd their beliefs are to the eyes of others.

But what if I'm wrong? What if there is a God? Well, the question is, which one? Do I believe in Thor, and Buddha? Do I believe in everything in the hope that one of them is right? What if we are all wrong and the One True God is in fact Quark, a 800-mile Nuclear Duck that made us all? Well, I don't know, but at least I know that I don't know. And neither does Bill, but discovering that doubt is a relentlessly funny and always interesting journey. It's a different kind of light, but a light worth seeing.

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