Religulous is a film that looks at religion from the viewpoint of a doubter, a man who believes in truth, and in humanity, and with a great talent for debate, engaging people and for comedy. He interviews religious people from America to Israel to talk about the truth of religion and the more negative affect on humanity.
From here he begins look at his own religious beliefs and upbringing and building from there. Through a series of interviews with examples of organised religious beliefs being taken to all manner of “extremes” he examines the effect that organised religion has on people and the world, and the harm that it is having and could potentially have.
Religulous is not an all out attack on religion and it isn't one man pitching his view and trying to make the people he's interviewing seem stupid, far from it, although he does enter into healthy debate with people he treats them fairly and even has a laugh with them, although sometimes it is rather pointed.
On the whole though it is balanced and fair, and although some might think it's an exercise in making religion look stupid, it is far from that, and is in fact trying to show doubt and danger in blindly following faith within an organised religion, and he does it remarkably well.
Some could argue that he does pick on the fringes of organised religion and that, for a specific example, when he does he doesn't allow them to explain themselves or defend their choices. The example I'm talking about is when he's discussing the murder of Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist with a Muslim.
I do beg to differ though, he does give people ample opportunity to explain, however he asks them some very direct questions and doesn't let them talk their way out of it by talking about the ideological aspects of religion, indeed with the two Muslims he interviews almost back to back, his provides the audience with some very interesting viewpoints and present some strong dilemmas as well as presenting these back to the interviewees themselves.
These two interviews are perhaps two of the most challenging moments in the film. While some will think they perhaps show an unfair view of Muslims, others will see what Maher is presenting. This piece is not against Muslims, but shows the blinding of a common, organised religion.
Like many of the other religions that Maher examines, he talks about the human aspect behind them and comes armed with some startling facts, facts which can sometimes be lost in the comedy and the pace of the moment, however some are indeed earth shattering.
It's Maher's interviewing style that is perhaps the best point of the film, his persistent attitude and knowing just when to give up on his line of questioning, as well as his dry sense of wit that brings each interview together and adds cohesion to the film. The short pieces to camera that pop up with someone talking to him in his car about the previous interview, keep the feeling going of movement from place to place, and round off and find meaning in each sequence.
I don't want to take away from some of the powerful moments of the film, and I would urge you to see this documentary. Maher has constructed something very clever and also rather enlightening. While you're watching the film you'll be entertained and quite surprised, but come the latter half it begins to build and grows in power, and the ending hits you like a ton of bricks.
A message is often obvious to find in film and sticks out a mile, especially in a documentary, but here it slowly evolves and takes time to come to the fore, and when it does Maher delivers a belter of a speech from the place where the film started, the place some religious groups believe the world will end.
Religulous is a powerful film with an even more powerful ending. It's message becomes clear only as the final sequence begins and Bill Maher completes his cinematic journey. Maher is an excellent guide and companion on the journey and a strong interviewer. He gives the audience quite a challenge, a lot to think about and some hugely powerful surprises.
This is recommended viewing for everyone, whatever your faith or religious belonging.