A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this provocative documentary about religion in the modern world is meant for adults. Star Bill Maher makes no claims to impartiality; he's unwavering in his belief that humans can't possibly know if there's a god and that religions are man-made power structures designed to absolve or encourage anti-social or immoral behavior. Maher looks at all faiths -- Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Scientology, and more -- and proceeds to articulate and analyze what he sees as their historical and logical failings. There's lots of strong language, some nudity (in film clips), and extensive discussion of hot-button issues involving sex, power, violence, and more.
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What's the story?
In RELIGULOUS, stand-up comic/political commentator Bill Maher travels the world to talk about the topic of religious faith in the modern world -- and to ask if religious faith is, in fact, incompatible with the modern world. Directed by Larry Charles (Borat), Religulous follows Maher as he asks blunt, pointed questions of people of faith to challenge their ideas and beliefs, discussing his own personal journey from faith to disbelief along the way. Religulous is hardly a one-man show, nor is it a conventional documentary; Charles loops in film clips, commercials, and behind-the-scenes moments to create a random, raucous journey through the ideas of both religion and atheism.
Is it any good?
Religulous is bolder and blunter than most documentaries. At the same time, there's no pretense of impartiality on Maher or Charles' part, and some of the movie's subjects -- like a Florida pastor who claims to be the literal second coming of Christ or a resident of Amsterdam who's founded a church based on using marijuana to enter transcendent states and better divine the will of God -- provide Maher with more than enough rope to hang themselves with every time they open their mouths to talk about their ideas. Regardless of how you feel about religion and belief, it's easy to agree that the film seems to dwell a little heavily on these extreme cases, but Maher seems to delight in showing these folks on the fringes. You could, of course, argue that Maher's simply trying to demonstrate that all religions are extreme cases -- but a little of Maher's tactics go a long way.
But while you're watching the film, you may be laughing too hard to think deeply about Maher's agenda -- his razor-sharp sense of timing has been honed by years on the stand-up circuit, and he's well equipped to go for the jugular and the funnybone at the same time. And some of the segments -- like a tour of a Creation Museum or a visit to a Florida theme park called "The Holy Land Experience" -- are as funny as they are confrontational. Charles also contributes; just as in Borat, there are even brilliant subtitle gags in Religulous, and as the film's mood switches from silly to serious, Charles makes sure that the shifts are smooth. Religulous also doesn't try to argue people of faith out of their beliefs, but instead encourages nonbelievers to step up and speak out. Religulous is guaranteed to be controversial, but Maher and Charles' efforts also ensure that there's more than just hype behind their film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's take on religion. Do you agree with Maher? Why or why not? Do you think the media is the appropriate place to discuss issues related to religion? What do you think Maher's intent was in making this movie? Does he succeed? Families can also discuss the film's uneasy mix of sociology and slapstick -- does the film gain an audience by being funny, at the risk of failing to make a real point?
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