A load of flapdoodle
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
German filmmaker Werner Fassbinder once observed that film lies at 24 frames per second, and no genre is more disingenuous than the documentary. For the audience at large, the assumption is that the documentarian approaches his subject with in-depth research and at least a modest attempt at keeping the approach even-handed.
But, as filmmakers such as Michael Moore have shown, that’s a load of flapdoodle. Even when approached with nuance, a documentary is still nothing more than an editorial wrapped in the façade of truthiness—especially when religion or politics get dragged into the mix. Even something as innocuous as a simple camera angle can shape how a viewer perceives the message.
With Expelled, no one can accuse the documentarians of nuance. Most of the blame here falls on writer Ben Stein (former Nixon speechwriter and host of the game show Win Ben Stein’s Money), who also serves as the tour guide through what he posits are the deadly halls of academia, where scientific careers are ruined by the mere suggestion that one believes in the alternative theory of “intelligent design” (I suppose a form of Darwinism in itself).
Whether or not this is an actual problem is undermined by Stein’s hamfisted approach. Of course, it’s pretty much the same approach that undermines his liberal contemporaries, an emphasis on personality over message. But at least Moore makes the time spent sort of entertaining—here, it’s just talking heads being aggrieved and Stein’s glib but not particularly enlightening observations.
He doesn’t help his argument by indulging in overreaching insinuations repeatedly, from using such loaded phrases as “Neo-Darwinists” to even implying that Darwin’s theories led straight to the gates of Auschwitz. Just as blinkworthy is when Stein wonders, over newsreel footage of a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech, “why we tolerate free speech in every other area of society, but not here?” Subtle as a brick, Ben.
Riffs like this give one the impression that Stein didn’t really approach this as a passion, but as a way to mine box-office gold by pandering to an underrepresented choir. Ultimately it just comes across as a new game show on his résumé: Make Ben Stein Money.