Religulous: Larry Charles interview
Religulous is the new film from Curb Your Enthusiam and Borat director Larry Charles, in which - along with his partner in blasphemy US TV show host Bill Maher - he pokes fun at organised religion around the world. However, neither of them have any plans to go to confession. We caught up with Larry to find out why.
LF: You’re very definite that religion is not the answer…
LC: No, it definitely is not
LF: Did you set off knowing that would be the resolution of the film, or did you go in with an open mind?
LC: You know, we’re brainwashed as little children into these belief systems before we even have a choice. No matter how intelligent you become, no matter how rational, how mature, there’s a part of you that holds on to that. You feel it’s going to be bad luck in some way if you let go. So we all cling to something, but we have to fight that urge because it’s so clearly a man-made construct. I mean, the idea of a monotheistic god or some supernatural being hovering over us and making judgements about us, being jealous of other gods, it’s not a very godlike thing. Why is there so much suffering in the world? You just kind of look around and it’s impossible to believe it, on a literal level.
If you want to talk about metaphors, if you want to talk about mysteries, I’m all open to that. There’s tons of things that we don’t know that need to be addressed. But ironically religion thwarts that inquiry rather than encourages it.
LF: At the beginning Bill is very much, “I don’t know” and then he comes to the end and the conclusion is religion has to stop…
LC: Right, but when he says “I don’t know”, he’s talking about these big questions and that religion is saying, “We do have the answers to these questions” and he’s saying to the people that identify themselves as non-religious people, “You have to stand up and be counted. You’re a large minority and you can have an impact on this dialogue, but you’ve got to get your s*** together and go out there and talk about it.” So, that’s what he’s saying. We are never preaching certitude in the movie.
LF: How did Religulous come about?
LC: It came about because Bill had been doing this critique of religion on TV and he wanted to expand it to a movie, but didn’t quite know how to do it. So he talked to me and we just found the subject so hysterically funny, and that nobody had tapped into it we thought was crazy! So we decided to walk into that minefield.
LF: And how was shooting?
LC: It was like a great road trip. We just had enough people to fit into the van. You know, a very stripped-out form of filmmaking, very spontaneous, lightning in a bottle. And, you know, that’s a very exhilarating experience.
LF: Did you do a lot of research about the people you meet throughout the film?
LC: We did a lot of research beforehand. We made a master list of people that we wanted to talk to, but at the same time I left a certain X-factor flexibility in the process. If we met somebody along the way, we could just stop, turn on the camera and interview that person.
LF: What do you hope that people get out of the film?
LC: I think it depends on where you’re at when you come to see the movie. If you’re a non-believer already then you walk away nodding your head in agreement going, “I agree, but also I realise that I’m part of a larger community that is not spoken for in this dialogue”. Whether it be Europe or America or even Israel – most Israelis that I’d meet were secular people. They’re not particularly religious, they just want to go to work, they want to take their kids to school, they don’t want to be killed. So there’s a lot of people out there who are past all this. They don’t realise there’s other people like that, because we’re made to feel like pariahs. And what we’re saying is you can join together and have an actual impact on the dialogue.
LF: Has there been any particular controversy over the film in the US?
LC: Yes, the Catholic diocese in the United States rated the movie ‘O’ for ‘offensive’. They’re very upset about it. And then specific people in the movie have come out and said, “They tricked us!” blah, blah, blah, you know? Which is all lies.
LF: So do you think the film will get different reactions here in Europe?
LC: Well, I think the difference between the European reaction and the American reaction may have to do with the relevance of the European section of the movie. The people that have seen it and the Q & As that I’ve done so far, they seem very interested in their society versus the Muslim influx. And that’s clash of civilisations that’s going on here. There’s a little bit more of a priority on that here than in America where people are more concerned about the line being erased between religion and politics.
But wherever I’ve watched it with people, there are gales and waves of laughter. There’s usually a spontaneous and enthusiastic burst of applause at the end. So I know it plays well, almost no matter what you believe, no matter what you think, if you get in there and see the movie with a full house, you’re going to have a good time.
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