I finally got to see this today. It’s a pretty funny film in which the comedian and talk show host Bill Maher travels the globe and shines a light on the crazy beliefs of religions. I’d hesitate to call it a documentary. Maher uses the word ‘roast’ which up to a point is the most apt description.
The film is always funny because folks are queer, with religionists very queer indeed. If you’re an atheist you can laugh at everyone in the movie, and if you’re a religionist, well I guess you can laugh at all the other religionists and just ignore the bits that are roasting your particular flavor of kool-aid. It’s not a film I’d recommend if you’re sensitive about your religion; there’s nothing good said about any of them.
There were several times where I laughed out loud, the interview with the evangelical US senator is one, because some of the interviewees were given just enough rope to make themselves and their beliefs appear really foolish. I wish there had been more clever moments like that in the film because Maher too often lets his dislike of religion get in the way of the interview. Because of this some interviews are much better than others, whereas I think there was potential for all of them to have been excellent. Every single person had something worth listening to, even if it was just for the WTF value, but some of the interviews never got deep enough.
I also wished we’d seen more of the really intelligent people he got in front of the camera. He interviewed Francis Crick and at least one Vatican scientist, but we spent more time with a roadside chapel for truckers. In this way the film lost out what I’m sure was really informative interviews to the comedy of religionists who say silly things to justify their loopy beliefs. Maher himself is very funny and always has a quip, but again sometimes those quips cut too close to the interviewee and he or she shuts down when there seemed to be more to mine if Maher hadn’t offended.
So Maher is the films strongest point yet also it’s weakest. The director of “Religilous” is Larry Charles, and he was also the director of “Borat”, which is probably the funniest film I’ve ever seen. “Borat” works better in letting people just keep on talking way past when they should have realized to stop, and “Religilous” had similar potential, but Maher too often went in with preconceived notions that he slammed the interviewee with. Still, as I said, it’s always funny.
Much of the humor comes from some fantastic editing with the juxtaposition of the interviews and stock footage and fake subtitles. The songs peppered throughout are also toe-tapping while also giving a sly wink to the audience. In the final 15 minutes or so the humor drops away as Maher looks at violence and religious extremism. While I’m less negative than Maher about the future of the world because of religion, I do agree with him that non-religionists should be active in promoting a world without the prejudices that inevitably occur from beholding to a religion. As Christopher Hitchens said, “religion poisons everything”. “Religilous” humorously shows why.