The Unbelievers is sincere, and unfortunately restrained
The Unbelievers is an amusing, mildly entertaining documentary, that is ultimately, and unfortunately, void of significant substance. As much as I liked the film, I didn’t take anything of value away from it. That may be because I am already an atheist, but I believe it would be similarly unfulfilling for a non-atheist, other than to demonstrate that there are in fact unbelievers. If the primary goal of this documentary was to highlight the existence of Atheists, it definitely did that, it did that quite well.
It may be my disappointment in the shallow content of this documentary talking, but I really did expect much more from Dr. Dawkins and Prof. Krauss. They have so much to offer that the limited amount of time they were actually presenting or discussing the subject matter is regrettably small. The upside to this is anyone that is not already familiar with their work, or the subject matter in general, could easily digest the information, making this a much better documentary for theists than it is for atheists.
‘The Unbelievers’ follows renowned scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss across the globe as they speak publicly about the importance of science and reason in the modern world – encouraging others to cast off antiquated religious and politically motivated approaches toward important current issues.
Now if you will forgive me, I am going to expand on my very personal feelings about this film. My personal feelings, I should note, have little bearing on my professional opinion of this documentary. The only reason I feel the need to make this distinction is that I have very strong personal feelings, which differ from my professional opinion, about this film.
The need to belong to a social group is instinctual and drives us together. These social groups often form around ideologies, beliefs or shared experiences. To be a member of a small often vilified and ostracized social group can be difficult at best, and life threatening at worst. To have affirmation that you are not alone is a great feeling. Too often atheists live either in hiding, or in silence, usually out of fear. While that may sound ominous, the fear is actually very real. Atheists are often ostracized, treated with mistrust and suspicion, subject to discrimination, and often lose friends. For most of us, the fact that we happen to be atheists is not a defining aspect of our person, it is just a worldview we happen to hold. What this film does is encourage us to be open about this worldview. In the hopes that the more we stand up and publicly show this side of ourselves, the more easily we will gain acceptance, or at the very least help promote the fact that freedom of religion cannot exist without freedom from religion. For this reason, I love this film. I connected with the message; it resonated on a very personal level. Perhaps I am mistaken about the larger scope lacking depth for the greater audience, I am prepared to accept that. However, I still think it lacks the barbs to stick anyone that was not already receptive.
Director Gus Holwerda approached the subject with such a reserved hand as to detrimentally mute the overall tone of the film. It comes across as a timid introduction to atheism, or a coming out party. I hate to be dismissive, but it misses the mark in a tragic way. It’s not clear if the arguments presented are undeveloped because the intended audience is mostly familiar with the arguments, or if he was afraid of alienating an audience that could not easily absorb the presented arguments if they were too complex. Either way I feel anyone watching this was shortchanged. The Unbelievers is a terrific introduction to the topic of public atheism, but leaves the next logical step untaken, which is heartbreakingly unfortunate.
The film includes interviews with celebrities and other influential people who support the work of these controversial speakers, including:
The Unbelievers was released in the US, Canada, Ireland, and the UK on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, PlayStation Network, and Xbox on June 3, 2014. 3 out of 5