The Unbelievers (2013)
If you are expecting the documentary The Unbelievers to be a strong and powerful argument for atheism, then you will have a disappointed. At most Gus Holwerda's film provides an interesting insight into the rigours of an international promotional tour, as he follows the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss around the globe. This acutely self-aware documentary fails to adequately explore the concept of atheism or the reason as to why these two scientists have embraced it. For such answers, you'd be better off reading the written works of Messrs. Dawkins and Krauss.
There are times when the documentary does capture the passion and intensity of this pair of academics at the top of their respective scientific fields. They are awed by the beauty and complexity of the universe and their appeal to view the world around us in the clearest and most rational terms is compelling. The Unbelievers also captures some lighter human moments such as Richard Dawkins nodding off to sleep on a train and Lawrence Krauss taking time out after a public debate to interact with both fans and dissenters alike. But these facets are not explored in sufficient depth and many of the debates with clergy and theologians are edited down to the bone. It’s as if we're expected to already be familiar with both men and their province of expertise.
It is the directors style and approach that ultimately undermines The Unbelievers. His aesthetic foibles (think Koyaanisqatsi) and rather predictable use of music (including such bands as Radiohead and R.E.M.) somewhat trivialises the depth of the debate in question and taints it with an unnecessary veneer of hipster chic. There's nothing wrong with trying to present a subject in a modern idiom to engage a broader audience (as Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey successfully did in 2014) but it is a fine line to tread. Valuable time is lost on Australian architecture and time lapsed cityscapes, instead on focusing on the two iconic subjects of the film.
The documentary opens and closes with a selection of celebrity talking heads, including Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, Woody Allen, Werner Herzog, Ian McEwan, Cormac McCarthy and Cameron Diaz. They offer a range of pro-scientific views which range from well-conceived ideas to broad celebrity endorsements. Sadly, that pretty much sums up The Unbelievers; stuck somewhere between a discussion and a sound bite. It is simply too lightweight to constitute as a meaningful contribution to the ongoing debate, although it may well have something to say about how even academia is not free from the cult of celebrity. However, it doesn't do any harm either. It's lack of rigour may encourage viewers to find and more about both sides of the argument, which is a positive thing.