As a Christian* I approached this DVD with some caution. Well, knock me down with a feather but Ricky Gervais has masterfully translated the beginnings of Christianity into a heart-warming film. Ricky lives in a faithless World where everything is black and white and sin is rampant - powerful and foul mouthed women are, unbelievably, socially equal to their male counterparts and openly talk about their sexuality in graphic and vulgar detail. This is all shocking and some of the jokes are a bit offensive but thankfully Ricky then has a religious epiphany whilst drawing out money from the bank. God connects directly with his soul and he is instantly reborn as a man of Faith. Like the beginnings of the one true faith 2,000 years ago in bronze age Rome he becomes instantly popular as he reveals the truth about the wonderful afterlife that awaits us all and this brings welcome comfort to his mother in her dying hour. I shed a tear at this point in the film, knowing that his mother would be going to a far better place where all people live in mansions - stirring stuff. People flock to his new Christian faith, some being simple minded doubters, but the increasingly generous promises of riches in the afterlife win them over in the end.
Thankfully Ricky has steered clear of cheap shots at the wrong faiths. He could have used his new God Given male powers as a 'genuine' man of faith to fleece the poor of their hard earned cash, to marginalise and control women, to bang on about abortion, to enforce odd dietary or clothing requirements on 'his' people or to persecute the homosexual community and so on (stuff like killing, intolerance, war, hatred, genocide) but, like the C of E in the new millenium, he simply focuses on the positive TRUTH and messages of the one true faith - life after death, being nice and eternity with untold wealth and joyful happiness (and obviously hell for the unbelievers and people who don't follow the rules). Incredibly at one point he actually appears to look exactly like the Jesus born in Suffolk that we all revere, complete with all his all-male disciples! The one thing I didn't get, though, was the title of the film, but this is a mere detail. It was probably ironic.
So if you want to see exactly how the Christian faith took off as a popular faith in ancient Rome, watch this film. I laughed so much I actually fell off my pulpit.
Anyhow, in writing this I've come up with a sequel called 'The Invention of Irony'......now that would be a great film if I could get my head round the concept. I just hope it gets released soon, as I can't wait to get the keys to my own mansion - I am just praying that I'm next door to Richard Dawkins for all eternity rather than Anne Atkins or Ann Widdecombe.
Irony aside - this is a great, thought provoking, but blunt film, which actually really takes off when the religious aspect of it is explored. In this respect Gervais could have made it more sinister but has deliberately kept it light for comedic value. Ultimately, however, the joke is that it's all made up and for that reason it won't be popular with everybody.
* This is technically correct as I was sprinkled with the magic water when I was a baby and a priest muttered some magical words from the big book of magic stuff and waved his hands. I am not sure how you undo the magical qualities of this dousing and, if it is of life shattering importance, I certainly didn't give my informed consent. And people just think it's a good excuse for a drunken get together...