Hot Docs Review: The Unbelievers [2013, Gus Holwerda]


In an introduction to his film at the premiere screening, director Gus Holwerda mentioned that in making this film, he was hoping to create a rock doc about science and that’s a fairly accurate description of what this documentary is all about.  Much like your standard film made about a touring band, The Unbelievers follows around scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss on a speaking tour of sorts as the two make appearances at various talks, debates, and media appearances.

While the two subjects of this documentary do come across as charming enough, I also found that they could come across as a bit smug.  I understand their position as many of their religious opponents do come off as anti-intellectual, but the film does tend to come across as an attack on religion, which I found to be a bit much at times. While not religious myself, I do feel that if someone gets something out of religion that improves their life or makes them a better person, then more power to them, as long as it doesn’t affect policy or education or impact on the lives of those who don’t believe.  I think my view on religion is best stated by the character of Jeff Winger on the TV series Community: “To me, religion is like Paul Rudd. I see the appeal and I would never take it away from anyone, but I would also never stand in line for it.”  That said, in many cases, people do use their religious beliefs to try and get things like “intelligent design” taught in the schools, which does seem like a barrier to progress in many ways.

Krauss and Dawkins speak of the idea of ridiculing that which doesn’t make sense as a tactic to argue for scientific ideas. The idea does seem a bit mean spirited, but when they point out some of the more outlandish, unbelievable elements of religious dogma, concepts like evolution and the big bang certainly sound a lot more rational.

In a discussion after the film, they elaborated on some of the concepts discussed in the film, with Krauss making the point that  “the great thing about our beliefs is that they are shakable.”  In the end, while their notions of eradicating religion altogether may be a bit unattainable and while most of those who will see The Unbelievers will have already made up their mind on the subject one way or the other, perhaps this is the message that people should take away from the film – that it’s a good idea to challenge your beliefs.


Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs