"Religulous": Funny Pot Shots at Religion By Christian Monggaard

in 26th Torino Film Festival

by Christian Monggaard

The title and one of the posters for Bill Maher and Larry Charles’ documentary Religulous says it all: It depicts three monkeys, one dressed like a Rabbi, covering its eyes, one like the Pope, covering its ears, and one like a Muslim, covering its mouth.

Obviously, the two filmmakers — Maher is a comedian and TV-presenter, Charles is the director of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) and producer of sitcoms like Seinfeld and Curb your Enthusiasm — have no faith in or respect for organized religion, in fact religion in any form.

Maher comes from a Jewish-Catholic family, but has never practiced anything other than asking critical questions about various religions. These questions are the focal point of Religulous, with Maher travelling around America and the rest of the world talking to people, trying to make sense of some of all the stupid nonsense, he feels is being said and done in the name of different Gods and prophets.

No religion escapes the wit of Charles, who mainly stays behind the camera, and Maher and the result is a very funny, bordering on the provocative meditation on faith and the contradictions, superstitions, hysteria and silliness inherit in any religion.

Maher has no qualms about taking pot shots at religious figures and representatives, often ranting fanatics and dubious outcasts, who are not as intelligent, quick, well spoken or rational thinking as himself. More than once he destroys his opponents with good arguments or ridicule — or both. In one hilarious scene Maher and Charles visit a Holy Land theme park in Florida, where Jesus is whipped and crucified several times a day, and start a heated discussion about Christianity and the Bible with the actor playing Jesus and some of his enthusiastic followers.

This aggressive and comedic approach is both the film’s strength and weakness. In a world torn apart by religious and cultural differences, Religulous is a highly relevant, enlightening and in many respects brave film, but one cannot help but wonder if it wouldn’t have had more of an impact and been less easy to dismiss, had Maher toned down his irreverent, confrontational style and talked to less crazy people. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be as much fun.