Bill Maher’s Religulous begins and ends in the same spot – Megiddo, Israel; supposedly the location of the birth of Christ and ground zero for the apocalypse (isn’t it ironic that they both share the same location?). This documentary takes a good hard look at religion and asks some very tough questions with Bill Maher acting as host and putting religion on the spot.
This is set up as a religion travelogue of sorts as Maher explores some of the world’s most monumental religious points and interviews people along the way while expounding on his own beliefs (or lack thereof) during some of the car drives between points A and B. While Maher is a bit of a smart ass and no doubt very full of himself, he’s also a smart guy and brings up a lot of interesting points while he’s riffing about the holes in the various mythology that is wrapped around the different religions such as the Adam and Eve story.
Maher ends up in some interesting locations one of which is a Disneyland of religion of sorts in Florida (Bibleland? the name escapes me as I type this). This theme park is set around Christianity and depicts Israel back in the day complete with a crucifixion re-enactment. Everyone there is in character of course with Bill getting to interview Christ himself. While Bill does ask hard questions like (to Christ, or the actor playing Christ more accurately) – “What if you’re wrong?” which makes the actor think hard, he also manages to joke around too (he also asked Christ if Disneyland is too smutty to host Bibleland).
The journey continues around the world, with stops at the Vatican (yes he got kicked out but was able to interview a Vatican priest), the Hague, the Mormon headquarters in Utah (he gets kicked off the property there too) and even a mobile trucker chapel held in the back of a trailer. His stop at the trailer included a roundtable talk with the attendees of the church where he has a spirited discussion over some of the strengths and weaknesses of their religion. Suprisingly, the debates he gets into stay on point and don’t get overly emotional or disrespectful with the exception of the odd person here and there that just walks out because they don’t like their religion brought into question.
The subject matter evolves during the documentary with some light being shed on religion and science working together as evidenced in an interview with a Vatican Priest/Scientist (which seems like an oxymoron but turns out to be one of the more compelling Vatican segments). Science is highlighted in other ways such as the Jewish science center exploring the development of different gadgets being developed with the purpose of getting around doing certain tasks that are punishable by God on the Sabbath.
There are some light moments in here such as the cannabis ministry segment where the minister(?) smoking pot with Maher manages to catch his hair on fire during their conversation. Then there’s another segment where a rabbi actually wears out Maher to the point where he walks out in the middle of the interview since he can’t get a word in edge-wise. Included throughout the documentary are snippets of films such as Blazing Saddles and Scarface which provide some great guffaws.
Maher is respectful for the most part during the interviews (with some smart ass moments like he’s known for), but he still manages to go on the attack too as he exposes some of the hypocrisy behind tele-evangelists highlighting one gentleman in particular who claims to be the second coming of Christ but has a taste for the finer things in life.
The documentary takes a dark turn at the end with Maher amping things up a notch as to what the consequences could be if we get too carried away with religion. And while the imagery he uses and his tone are both intense at this point, ultimately he seems to be on the money. Love him or hate him, Bill Maher makes you think and re-examine your beliefs in Religulous.
reviewed by Sean McKnight