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By Nick Jones on 11.10.2023

From the London Film Festival: Religulous

Throughout October inQuireLive will be at the London Film Festival and will be reporting back on a pick of the best films shown at the festival.

As indicated by the title, this was never going to be a film that broached
the much talked about and poignant issue of religion seriously, especially with Bill
Maher, stand-up comedian and star of The Aristocrats exploring the issue.
Admittedly, with this in mind, and having recently seen previous attempts
by comedians to broach ‘that subject’ with a comic twinge, fail miserably,
I was sceptical. But as this film proclaims to wear its scepticism on its
sleeve, I felt that in some way I had entered the cinema with ‘the right
kind of attitude’, and initially I was pleasantly surprised.

What the trailer lacked (engaging arguments and genuinely funny jokes) it
made up in the first few minutes. Bill Maher approaches the subject first
of all through himself and his family, showing them to be naturally funny,
but also allying the audience to his religious upbringing and then loss of
such, something which many people (myself included) can directly relate to
in some respect.

The documentary progressed after these first few introductory minutes into
a full on assault on Christianity, with Maher making sharp and witty
replies to the congregation of a truckers chapel. This section of the
documentary is perhaps where Bill Maher falls from grace. Up until this
point Maher had spent time contextualising his religious doubts, yet in
the truckers chapel, the version of Maher seen on the trailer shone through when he presented
unsupported and thinly researched arguments against the chapel preachers own thinly researched
counter arguments. The preacher seemed wholey unprepared, but hey that was the point right?

So after several minutes of unsupported arguments presented to
unsuspecting Christians, the audience is left laughing at genuinely funny
quips, but are left slightly disengaged. To put it bluntly, Maher spends
the first 30 minutes making Christians look stupid through using his dominance
of conversation and arguments (obviously a skill that he has honed from
years of stand-up). This is until an interview with the Vatican
astrologer, where Maher stops dealing with ‘the obvious stuff’ but engages
with compelling arguments on each side of the coin. The film progresses
dealing with strange characters, the strange fundamentalists that are on
the fringes of modern society, rather than questioning day to Christians,
and for that matter any of the religions he has in his sights.

From that premise, the laughs are aplenty because the people that Maher
engages with are those that are (often) in some way shunned by society as well as
‘’normal’’ religious people and are not taken too seriously. A prime example
being a priest of Cannabis in Amsterdam, where Maher’s experience as an
entertainer really shines through with funny but also pointless jokes at a
man who clearly has little grip on reality (though not more so than the
other people that he interviews).

So Maher’s film is entertaining, sometimes even well argued, but if you
are looking for a film that changes or challenges your opinions, you would
be better of looking elsewhere (unless you believe that Jesus lives in
America somewhere).

Religulous was realease in the USA on October 3rd. It is currently not scheduled for UK release but this may change shortly as the film is being slowly released across Europe throughout November and December.


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