Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss are punk rock stars of science.

Dawkins is the author of "The God Delusion" and an unrelenting atheist who dares anyone except fundamentalists to debate him on the subject of religion. Krauss wrote "A Universe From Nothing" and spends his time defending the proof of evolution in the face of surging creationists around the world. Together this dynamic duo travel the planet in hopes of better explaining the universe around us, the takeaways of being human and why looking for meaning to our existence is a colossal waste of time.

In "The Unbelievers", filmmaker Gus Holwerda joins these larger-than-life characters as they attend debates, give speeches and publicly balk at organized religion in the modern world, all while defending the plausible and tangible evidence offered by the trial-and-error of science. The film is peppered with celebrity interviews that support this risky conversation, including Ricky Gervais, Woody Allen, Cameron Diaz, Werner Herzog, Sarah Silverman and physics demigod, Stephen Hawking. The doc gets another helping hand from its soundtrack that includes music from R.E.M. and Radiohead.

The hope when watching this doc is to get some hard insight and intellectual evidence from these outspoken geniuses as to why and how their contentious opinions are valid in a world driven by the comfort of a higher power. Needless to say, their science first, God-in-the-dumpster mentality is an instant dividing line and an ear deafener to many a practicing Muslim, Christian or Buddhist.

The film would have us believe that these two are respectful agitators who are willing to have constructive conversations with people who differ in opinion, but there is an egotistical air with Dawkins in particular. One scene shows the biologist outraged and impatient as he debates a high-level member of the Australian Catholic Church. Krauss comes across as the friendlier communicator, playfully sparring with talk show hosts and even Stephen Colbert over the details of evolution.

"The Unbelievers" has the potential to become robust with big ideas and elaborate explanations as to why religion is dated and medieval in its modern use, but that isn't how the film is delivered. Instead, what ensues is a montage-heavy greatest hits package of sound bites that are wildly stimulating, but not altogether complete thoughts.

Here are some of my favourites:

"There is nothing wrong with disputing everything."

"Religion has hijacked morality."

"Celebrate your insignificance."

"Force our beliefs to conform to the evidence of reality, not the other way around."

The film reaches its crescendo with footage of our nerdy superheroes speaking in front of thousands at The Reason Rally, a gathering of celebrity atheists that drew thousands of supporters in Washington D.C. last year. Here is where the film sort of lost me. I would have been happier with longer sections of these serious thinkers defending their cause, rather than fluff visuals of rabid fans trying to get autographs.

Regardless of this doc's shortcomings in getting Dawkins and Krauss' message across, there is no doubt that these men have some serious cred when it comes to science, and that they are unabashed unbelievers.


Sat, May 4 1:30 p.m.

Isabel Bader Theatre

Sun, May 5 1:30 p.m.

Isabel Bader Theatre

Check out these other documentaries screening at Hot Docs:

Hot Docs Day 8: 'American Commune'

Hot Docs Day 7: "This Ain't No Mouse Music"

Hot Docs Day 6: "12 O'Clock Boys"

Hot Docs Day 5: "Pussy Riot -- A Punk Prayer"

Hot Docs Day 4: "TPB AFK"

Hot Docs Day 3: "15 Reasons To Live"

Hot Docs Day 2: "Good Ol' Freda"

Hot Docs Day 1: "The Manor"
categories Movies