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Closer to a fannish rock-doc than a critique of faith in a supreme being, Gus Holwerda‘s The Unbelievers is the kind of fly-on-the-wall affair that follows its subjects through the mundane details of a speaking tour and mistakenly believes they possess enough charisma to keep us from noticing how little philosophical content we’re being offered. Surely, self-appointed champions of atheism Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss are popular enough with a certain breed of aggressive nonbeliever to attract small crowds in special theatrical bookings and on video, but broader commercial appeal is nil.
More damning than its dullness is the likelihood that not a single mind will be changed by the film — with the possible exception of viewers who’ve until now foolishly felt that people of different fundamental beliefs can live in mutual tolerance, respecting and even admiring neighbors with whom they disagree. Instead, people of faith are discussed with contempt here. At one point, Dawkins feebly says, “I don’t despise religious people, I despise what they stand for,” — a claim that rings as false, judging from most of what he says here, as an extreme right-wing homophobe’s claim to hate the sin but love the sinner.
If Dawkins and Krauss have good arguments for their need to not only choose their own beliefs but shove them down the world’s throat, those arguments don’t get made here. Christopher Hitchens, for instance, usually tethered his anti-God message to documented accounts of the crimes committed in God’s name; others might scrutinize the ways Judeo-Christian values infect our laws in ways believers can’t even recognize. As we follow these two speakers from city to city, watching them debate religious figures and give joint lectures, their position seems to be that they simply can’t stand to share the planet with people who hold demonstrably untrue beliefs.
If eradicating error is their highest value, maybe someone should disabuse Krauss of his apparent belief that wearing pink sneakers with a dress suit makes him look young and hip. Is that petty? Sure — but it’s in keeping with the ad hominem insults lobbed at believers throughout the film, especially once the doc gets to big atheism rallies in Melbourne and Washington, D.C.
Krauss and Dawkins presumably have more to offer than self-satisfaction and ridicule for those who don’t share their love of science, but Holwerda isn’t interested in showing it. Though many references are made to Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing, a book attempting to crack the basic question of how the universe came to be, he never gets a chance here to explain the book’s thesis. Instead we’re offered heaps of trivial travelogue footage and collegial chit-chat. If one were to strip away every meaningless shot out a train or airplane window, every scene of the buddies hanging out at a tourist attraction, every talking-head clip seeking to link Krauss and Dawkins to celebrity atheists like Ricky Gervais and Woody Allen, the film’s actual content would likely total just 15 or 20 minutes. And it still wouldn’t be of much use to skeptics seeking to communicate with, live alongside or maybe even sway their religious neighbors.
Production Company: Black Chalk
Director: Gus Holwerda
Screenwriters: Gus Holwerda, Luke Holwerda, Lawrence Krauss
Producers: Gus Holwerda, Luke Holwerda, Jason Spisak
Executive producer: Lawrence Krauss
Director of photography: Luke Holwerda
Music: Thomas Amason, Chris Henderson
Editors: Gus Holwerda, Luke Holwerda
No rating, 76 min.
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