Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Movie Review: Religulous (2008).

The most valuable currency in Hollywood isn't money.

It's final cut.

Directors know that the power to edit carries the power to shape or control the story, and so the most astute insist on it.

Bill Maher's Religulous ridicules religion principally through its power of editing. It selects its victims and excises anyone who might make sense. Not surprisingly, the movie trafficked in tongue-speakers and 6-day, young-earth creationists, as if those represent all of orthodox Christianity.

Moreover, I'm sure the more intelligent comments of its victims were also edited out to leave the absurd, the banal and laughable. Especially given the last adjective, it's undeniable the movie has funny parts. It also repeatedly splices in other movies and video footage (President Bush almost co-stars) to keep the audience on its toes and laughing.

Maher also mixes in his own homilies (oddly, he is often interviewed in a car in profile) as well as personal stories as he interviews his mother and sister about his religious background (he was raised Catholic). Maher exposes his ignorance at the outset when he refers to the book "Revelations." Sorry, Bill, it's "Revelation." He also engages in propagating canards about Christianity, and even suggests that all Christians believe in transubstantiation. Sorry again, Bill, that's Catholics.

Maher is an equal opportunity offender, however. He takes on the three major monotheistic religions (and others), but curiously doesn't skewer other religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism, among many others. Worse, he absurdly tries to tie Christianity with other religions in terms of terrorism risks. Bill, where's the evidence of that?

This accusation without evidentiary support undermines Maher's flimsy attempt to marry himself to evidence. He claims he merely preaches doubt and is slavish to hard evidence. Not so. Maher is quite certain with many of his certain pronouncements in the movie, such as there is no evidence of the historicity of Jesus. Sorry yet again, Bill, that's a nonstarter.

The movie has been compared to Borat and Michael Moore's documentaries. The Borat comparison has some appeal since its directed by the same director, Larry Charles. However, Maher unlike Borat refuses to bring the joke on himself. And unlike Moore, he often delivers zingers to his victims in their presence and then shows many of them appearing dumbfounded with nothing to say (with editing techniques fully on display). Who knows if that dumb look on their faces actually followed the comment shown in the film.

The movie is funny, but the viewer needs to understand that anything can be made to look ridiculous through the power of editing.

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