Movie Review: Expelled

Expelled is a really, truly, awful movie. Even setting aside its errors and its Holocaust nigh-denial, it’s just a badly assembled bit of cinema. It’s offensive and absurd to compare the events of the Cold War to the treatment of the supposed martyrs: the folks who variously were called bad names, didn’t get tenure because they didn’t publish research or get grants, the one who didn’t get a new contract after failing to live up to the previous one, etc. People starved behind the Berlin Wall. They were sent to Siberia, and not in any figurative sense.

It’s doubly offensive for Stein to set himself up as some sort of Cold Warrior. Ben Stein isn’t Reagan. He isn’t Nixon. He isn’t Thatcher. He’s not even George Herbert Walker Bush. The movie is just self-aggrandizement on his part. If there were even a glimmer of self-awareness, a touch of self-mockery at some point along the tedious, petty and entirely trivial course of the movie, it might have been salvageable. But there isn’t. All it has are poorly edited footage that appears to have been shot by an eight-year old with ADD. Whether the cinematographer even had a tripod is unclear, and he or she surely didn’t have a light meter, or any means to focus the camera consistently.

The Holocaust sections of the movie aren’t just deeply, deeply offensive, they are also bizarrely disconnected from the rest of the movie. For a while, the director tries to put together a fake film-within-a-film, but it was poorly executed, overly long for its conceit, and never really wrapped up. Its like the director just lost interest in the idea. If that scheme were to run through the whole movie, it shouldn’t start half an hour in, and the film should maintain that light-hearted, satirical feel. But it doesn’t, and it carries on too long for it just to be a brief bit. When the conceit of the film-within-a-film recurs, it takes too long to remember what’s going on. It’s a gag that could have been funny, had the director, actor or writer possessed any comedic talent at all.

Don’t waste your time. Rent Mr. Death: The Rise & Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr. if you want a look at the way technical expertise can mislead, the way science can be misused, and the way a basically decent person can be dragged into Holocaust denial. Then reflect on the far less honorable path taken by Ben Stein and his new friends at the Disco. Inst.

Comments

  1. #1 Siamang
    April 29, 2008

    I felt a disconnect within the film as to when archive footage was meant to be satirical, and when it was meant to be informative.

    I mean, sometimes the scratchy black and white was meant to be a joke, and sometimes it was, in all supposed sincerity, meant to show Hitler, the Holocaust, etc. Very jarring, and undercutting both the attempt at humor and also really making the Holocaust stuff feel flip.

    You touched on the flip usage of the Berlin wall. The images of Stalin used as a joke were, in my estimation, bad taste. But these people aren’t known, for taste, tact, deference to experience or reverence for anything not religious or tub-thumping jingoistic.

    As you said, people were killed. Jokey footage of the Berlin Wall with the filmmakers’ names superimposed as opening credits-cum-graphiti establishes the tone for this film perfectly, alas.

  2. #2 Kalia's little brother
    April 29, 2008

    It’s doubly offensive for Stein to set himself up as some sort of Cold Warrior…

    This is especially apparent in the last sequence. Stein has learned all about how “Darwinists” have suppressed genuine ID researchers and even caused the Holocaust. He’s mad, and he’s going to do something about it. The tension builds for his big showdown with the evil atheist Darwinist Richard Dawkins. Footage of Dawkins preparing at the meeting place. Cut to Stein approaching in his car. Tension-building music. Here it is: the big showdown. And what does Stein do? He asks Dawkins a number of annoyingly stupid questions. Wow. Way to fight for truth and justice, Mr. Stein.

  3. #3 Kalia's little brother
    April 29, 2008

    The images of Stalin used as a joke were, in my estimation, bad taste.

    Particularly for anyone familiar enough with the history of science to know about Lysenkoism.