Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Religulous: Terrifyingly Hysterical

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on October 1, 2008

Hilarious, disturbing, and guaranteed to piss off the southern half of the country, Bill Maher’s new documentary Religulous takes no prisoners.

I’ve noticed some reviews are calling this film “adolescent” because Maher has chosen to examine the issue of religious zealotry with a sense of humor. And sure, there’s plenty of goofy stock footage inserted between really awkward interviews with dead-eyed religious clerics. But Maher’s examination of religion (including his own religious past) is remarkably candid and sympathetic toward the victims of religious mythology.

Take, for example, a scene at the beginning of the film where Maher interviews a cluster of truckers, who have gathered in a roadside shack to pray to the Lord. The scene is ripe for cruel, fast-talking City Boy mockery. But Maher seems to genuinely feel frustration, not at the poor men clutching their bibles, but at the lies and falsehoods that take advantage of those who have lost their ways.

Bill’s beef is with religion, not with the poor and lost, who turn to religion out of desperation. He confesses that he was artificially religious one time (he once haggled with God to help him quit smoking,) and there are wonderful scenes with his mom and sister, both of whom seem to still harbor religious beliefs.

And there are moments of sheer terror, too. Maher takes the viewer on an international journey of religious extremism: from Evangelical state Senators in America to Muslim Clerics in London. While there are the usual observations of how dumb and exploitative religious ceremony has become with its plaster Virgin Marys sporting price tags of $2500, there are also scenes addressing the murder of Theo Van Gogh and suicide bombings.

Religion, Maher argues, isn’t simply the harmless, personal pastime of billions of people. In its purest, most radical form, religion is a drug capable of mass destruction.

“Grow up, or die,” Maher advises the audience. It doesn’t sound condescending. It’s a plea from a man who has seen the ugliness of faith unquestioned.

Religulous opens nationwide October 3

Visit the official website at www.lionsgate.com/religulous

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