The Easter Marathon 2012

It's Easter once again. That wonderful time of the year when we're supposed to celebrate that a semi-fictional conman faked his own death, and then ran away. As you can tell by this opening bravado, I'm not part of "that club".

People used to be superstitious, because they didn't know any better. They invented gods and religion to make sense of a world they couldn't understand. Today we know better, today there is no excuse to believe in nonsense and magic. And yet we live in perilous times .

On a daily basis religious nutbaggery and intelligent design join forces with criminally stupid nonsense such as acupuncture and homeopathy to ruin any progress made by the human race, with a wall of ignorance. It's never been more important to stay alert. So for this Easter film-marathon we're going to put on our thinking caps, and watch four films that remind us to stay critical and skeptical.

Without further ado, here is your program:


Film #1: Life of Brian (1979)

"Hail Messiah!"
"I'm not the Messiah!"
"I say You are, Lord, and I should know. I've followed a few."

Life of Brian is one of the best films ever made, full of wonderful sharp humor that tears an irreparable hole in the giant windbag of religion. With just a few perfect sketches (and an awful lot of silliness) the Pythons manage to expose the hypocrisy of blind faith. Not faith overall, mind you, because we need to believe in something, just blind faith. It's the single best thing the Monty Python troupe ever did, and now that I think about it, it should be required viewing every Easter.

Film #2: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

"Never theorize before you have data. Invariably, you end up twisting facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

Sherlock Holmes was always the iconic skeptic - though ironically his creator Arthur Conan Doyle was not. Admittedly this modern incarnation from Guy Ritchie is more style than substance, but it's still comforting to watch Holmes battle against the dull-minded superstitious of his time, refusing to surrender his wits, even at the brink of madness.

The film teaches us that if all you're left with, after all facts have been examined, is the supernatural, then you need more facts or more examination.

Film #3: The Illusionist (2006)

"Everything you've seen is an illusion, it's a trick."

I know, I know, this could easily be dismissed as nothing more than a sappy love story, but there's a lot more than meets the eye. This turn-of-the-century magician, not only admits that he's merely performing tricks, but he also challenges authority with his wicked ways, AND uses magic to reclaim his girl. You can't beat that. After all, love is the only true magic of this world.

This is not the only magic themed movie from that year, there's also Christopher Nolan's fantastic The Prestige (2006), if you're in the mood for something a bit more flashy, but unfortunately it's got that major plot-point that disqualifies it from skeptic status.

Film #4: The Usual Suspects (1995)

"To a cop the explanation is never that complicated. It's always simple. There's no mystery to the street, no arch criminal behind it all. If you got a dead body and you think his brother did it, you're gonna find out you're right. "

The Usual Suspects is one of my all-time favorite films. Of course it's well-written, a study in precision storytelling, perfectly acted, and all that, but in this context it's particularly relevant, because it teaches us to be alert and observant.

The entire plot relies on one simple fact: That the obtuse detective is so convinced of his own theory and powers of observations, he literally never bothers to take a look around, and examine his world from a different vantage point. Which is ultimately his undoing.

This story is a deceptively complicated as it is beautiful.

BONUS: F for Fake (1973)

And finally, if you can handle another film after all this, I suggest Orson Wells' fraud documentary F for Fake. Now, this is sort of breaking my own rule, because I haven't actually seen it myself. Not yet anyway, but hopefully I will have a chance to pop it in the player very soon.



And there you have it.

If you need more skeptical entertainment, I recommending listing to The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast (link) aka The One Podcast To Rule Them All. Or perhaps tune in to the BBC panel show QI (link) or Discovery's Mythbusters (link), two excellent examples of how critical thinking can be fun and engaging, even in primetime.

Let's end with a quote from Mythbuster Adam Savage. He said it as a joke, when he came up short during an experiment, which must be why it sounds like it could have come from any old non-skeptical fool.

"I reject your reality. And substitute my own."