Wednesday, October 8, 2008

It's important that "Religulous" is in wide release...

....because Fireproof and An American Carol are also in wide release.

And even though the quantity is 2 versus 1, let's be honest--one competent, substantial documentary that dares to question the status quo of all organized religions, thereby challenging the status quo of the last eight years of political leadership in this country is, at the very least, a strong match for two lazy, incompetent, fictional forays into cinematic right-wingery.

Fireproof is a Kirk Cameron film, which should set off signals to anyone looking for quality cinema. It is also a film that relentlessly peddles the religious fundamentalism that Religulous analyzes in detail.

An American Carol comes straight out of the Zucker cess pool--which once brought us inventive and unexpectedly hilarious spoofs like Airplane! and The Naked Gun, but which has degraded over the years until now, when the genre has become so bankrupt that it is resorting to right-wing propaganda.

And I'll be honest--that's fine. These films are allowed to be made. What's more, they should be made (okay, maybe I'm going too far on that point). If the left can go to the theater and bask in the joys of Michael Moore and Bill Maher, the right is allowed to have their views espoused by the likes of....uh...Kirk Cameron and David Zucker. No problem there.

But in this most important of election years, when we will surely see unprecedented voter turnout and decide whether we want to change our country's direction or continue down the same path, there needs to be a solid cinematic point-counterpoint. And if the right's points are "Jesus saves marriages" and "Democrats are softies," then the left-wing counterpoint should surely be "religious fundamentalism is not only crazy, it's dangerous."

Bill Maher is a polarizing figure. His views are clearly Democratic and he makes no bones about discussing them openly--first on ABC's Politically Incorrect and now on his even-better HBO program, Real Time. He is not everyone's cup of tea--and even K and myself have taken issue with some of his views. But his boldness is unparalleled as both a comedian and as a member of the media.

That boldness is the crux of what makes Religulous such a fabulous, enlightening, entertaining, and powerful film experience. Time and again, Maher steps into the fire--daring to question the basis for the beliefs of fundamentalist Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Scientologists, and even, oddly, a religion of pot-smokers--and refuses to blink. The point is not to simply debunk religious tenants that so many people hold so dear, but to level the blind piety with reasonable questioning, thereby allowing the notion of "faith" to be put under a microscope and analyzed for its underlying structure.

What becomes fascinating is how nearly every religion in the known world is based on the same story, the same mythology, makes the same basic predictions, and espouses the same basic lessons/requirements/traditions/demands. With that irrefutable fact in mind, it becomes inherently necessary to question the validity of any one religion--and certainly to question the notion that "MY" beliefs are somehow absolute and true above and beyond "YOUR" beliefs. How can everyone claim to be right when so many of us believe different things? Of course, maybe we all can be right, since most religions base their stories on the same mythological starting point--and with that knowledge, can religion really be true, or, like stories passed down by each culture and each generation, is "religion" really a set of wonderful myths that people have clung to over time?

These are the questions Bill Maher poses in Religulous, and the off-shoots of those questions probe even deeper. Is religion a powerful truth or a convenient crutch? Are people divinely inspired or psychologically deluded? Do we cling to our religion to get us through the day, or is there more to faith than simply worshipping thin air? Finally, regardless of the answers to these ultimately unanswerable questions, what road does our passion for belief in *anything* lead us down? Are we happy and motivated, or are we waiting to be taken away? Are we inspired for good, or insighted to do evil? Are we encouraged to care, or does the idea that we are "going to a better place" contribute to our ultimate misanthropy, laziness, and apathy?

It we are militant and motivated, is that why events like 9/11 and Oklahoma City happen? Or, if we are apathetic, will we ever actually be willing to do anything to fight against such atrocities?
We each must figure these issues out for ourselves. Bill Maher provides his own journey of questions and doubt as an example. As a film, Religulous stands to pose all-important dissent to what so many see as literally gospel, a gospel that speaks not only to the personal beliefs of many, but the current political trajectory of our entire country.

We need to question. We need to engage in and pay attention to active dissent. And more than any other reason, that is why Religulous is so important.


Vigilante said...

Just gotta be better than "Borat"!

MadMike said...

I laughed my ass off at Borat Vigil. It was a lively comedy that was fun from the first scene to the closing credits. I don't take these things too seriously. I go to the movies to have fun. I think I will have fun at Religulous and am now getting ready to go see "W". Stay tuned. Great review guys!

J McKiernan said...

Oh, yeah, Vig...dissing "Borat" is tantamount to fightin' words! Then again, Vig and I don't often see eye-to-eye on movies. At least we agree on the presidential election...and that is infinitely more important.

Mike, you say you don't take things too seriously, and that's a valid and popular opinion among moviegoers nowadays. I get it. The fact that I take EVERYTHING seriously has more to do with my own love, passion, OBSESSION with filmmaking and cinema.

That said, I think "Borat" should be taken seriously because it is a savvy and audacious satire of American prejudice. It is hilarious on its own, and Sacha Baron Cohen is a brilliant performer. But the conceit of the character is to turn an unlikely mirror onto the faces of some unsavory, sometimes extremist Americans. It exposes American hypocrisy and idiocy...and in my view, that's a downright patriotic act.

"Religulous," in turn, should be taken even more seriously, because funny as it is, it's a REAL documentary...not a mockumentary about a reporter from Kazakhstan. It is bold and important and yes, very funny, too.

We will be off to see "W." this coming soon. We are also very far behind as far as reviewing other stuff...there is lots out there, some of which is worthwhile, but none of which is absolutely awe-inspiring. I will try to get to at least some short capsule reviews of all those soon, as well.

MadMike said...

I did a review on "Appaloosa". I hope you check it out and let me know what you think.

Vigilante said...

I can't believe how much Borat sucked. Good taste causes me not to elaborate.

J McKiernan said...

Well, Vig, I tried.

MadMike said...

Vigil you are sounding rather curmudgeonly these