"If we get murdered, it's a great DVD extra."
That was director Larry Charles' response when asked if he or documentary host Bill Maher feared any physical retaliation upon the film's release.
The movie is the much-anticipated Religulous and it is best described as an equal opportunity offender. For years, Maher's standup comedy has addressed the issue of religions and their teachings. He insists we should all be smart enough to see through the texts and traditions created by men, not a higher power. In this documentary, Maher sets out to show the fallacies of religion and their leaders and devout followers. He interviews Catholics, Jews, Muslims, an ex-Jew for Jesus, an anti-Zionist, a member of the cannabis ministry, ex-Mormons (Tal Bachman), a converted homosexual, a religious scientist, the second-coming of Christ, and numerous others. Through simple questions, most are shown not to fully understand their beliefs, to be unable to explain their convictions or reasoning, and/or to be manipulating the texts for their own benefit.
At no point does Maher attack any of the people he is speaking to; nor does he tell them they are wrong (irrational yes, wrong no); he just asks them to think about the validity of what they're saying. He cries for rationality. Religions are against and for so many things, Maher points out that if you were part of a club that believed the same things, "you'd resign in protest."
The story begins with Maher's own roots. He was born to a Catholic father and Jewish mother but was made to go to church until he was 13, never knowing why his mother did not accompany the family. Later, his standup routines questioned the practice of circumcision and the semblance of Biblical tales to fairy tales.
Of course the film is cleverly edited – they had 14 hours of material. But the responses are not contrived. Furthermore, the subtitles that do provide commentary about some of the characters is not poking fun but actually pointing out the speakers' untruths or absurdities.
Obviously not everyone is going to like it but hopefully those who do not agree with it can enter the theatre with an open-mind and at least think about what is being said. Possibly the best sequence of the film comes in the conclusion when Maher explains the "end times" in every religion is being made a self-fulfilling prophecy by man's disregard for human life and the environment. It's in stark contrast to the lighter tone of the rest of the film and really calls for some serious thought.