Chris Graham | ‘W.’ as art, ‘Religulous’ as divine inspiration
“I don’t know. She said she fell asleep, it was so bad.” This was the warning from my wife after one of our friends saw an early screening of Oliver Stone’s “W.,” a chronicle of the life and times of the 43rd President of the United States of America, who thankfully is weeks away from a retirement that if it hadn’t been forced by the Constitution would have been enforced by the voters at the polls last week.
You don’t normally think to go to a movie that a friend has told you was so boring that it put her to sleep in the theater, but, I don’t know, I just couldn’t imagine that it could have been that bad. So there was that, plus I’ve always been the sort to grab the milk container after somebody complains that the contents inside are sour.
And so it was that I found for myself that … I liked the movie, and actually a lot more than I liked the president. The cast was stellar – Josh Brolin bringing President Bush’s goofy fake-cowboyisms to life in vivid detail, Richard Dreyfuss pulling off such a dead-on Dick Cheney that you have to wonder if Cheney doesn’t hide in his bunker and send Dreyfuss out for public appearances as the Real Veep, Thandie Newton evoking ’50s cornball as Condi Rice and Toby Jones channeling his inner weasel as Bush’s Brain Karl Rove.
Even the missus, who didn’t fall asleep, for the record, but nonetheless thought the movie painfully slow, agreed that the players did their jobs expertly. I think Stone, of “JFK,” “Nixon” and “World Trade Center” fame, Baracked his as well, but I will caution that I come from a wonk’s perspective in saying so. Which is to say, I’m the kind of person who reads Bob Woodward’s State of Denial and the 9/11 Commission Report and political-science texts from cover to cover for the fun of it, so to me the detail about the inner workings of the White House was like so many car chases and love scenes all rolled into one.
I also liked the way Stone used “W.” to tell the story of the current president’s early years as a hell-raiser and ne’er-do-well to his midlife conversion to evangelical Christianity that set him on the course that history knows well now. I wasn’t among those who came away “feeling sorry” for W., as I heard some people who saw the movie say later, but I would say that I left with an appreciation for the man being who he is.
I still wouldn’t wish eight years with him in charge on your hometown Kiwanis Club, much less the good ol’ US of A, but, hey, life happens.
If you consider yourself to be at all organized-religious or spiritual or even agnostic-mainly-because-I’m-lazy-but-one-day-I’m-going-to-get-around-to-going-to-church-again, then I would recommend that you don’t see “Religulous,” the documentary collaboration of comedian/social commentator Bill Maher and director Larry Charles.
1. You will be offended to the nth degree.
And 2. You’re probably going to leave the theater doubting much of what you thought you knew coming in.
This movie came for me at an interesting time in my own spiritual journey, if I can say that I’m on a spiritual journey by irregularly visiting a Unitarian Universalist church and fighting with the Methodist church across the street over its members’ overuse of my parking lot as my other main spiritual activity. I don’t want to say that I consider myself more tolerant of the many different paths to spiritual happiness than I used to be, because I have come to view the word tolerant as being very much an intolerant way of looking at things, an I’m-better-than-you way of approaching the world. Maybe I can give myself leave by calling myself more open to different worldviews than I used to be and leave it at that. Maher is More Open on Steroids, and no organized religion escapes his wrath in “Religulous,” which takes on a noteworthy tone through the work of Charles, whom you might remember from the road movie “Borat” that followed a pseudo-Kazak TV interviewer as he traveled across America in search of the American Dream in the form of an improbable meeting with former Playboy pinup Pamela Anderson.
Charles has Maher traveling the span of the globe in search of God, and smacking down those who would tell him and the world that they are the keepers of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven along the way. And it’s not only the oxen from the conservative and traditional side of the Book of Life who find themselves gored, either, though the scene with the self-proclaimed ex-gay pastor is perhaps the single most memorable exchange in the movie. Liberal Christians, Jews and Muslims are also frequent targets in “Religulous.”
The point of the exercise seems to be a basic marvelling at what people will do to themselves and their neighbors in the name of God in the face of a lack of even a scant bit of evidence that God exists or that men named Moses and Jesus and Mohammed ever walked the earth.
If the previous sentence bothers you at all, you’re best to stay at home.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you …
– Review by Chris Graham