"We need that water in southern California," says Ben Stein when I tell him it's raining in Halifax. "If we could only figure out a way to inexpensively get it to California, that's what we need."
Evidently tone deaf to something as fundamental to Canadians as concern about American designs on our water and resources, you have to wonder why Stein thinks he can waltz north of the border with his film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, and convince us to, yep, teach creationism in schools.
Oh, sure, Stein calls it "intelligent design," and dresses it up in pseudo-scientific trappings on par with "Darwinism," another bullshit term that, although never defined in the film, roughly translates as "evolutionary theory," the foundational block of mainstream biology and environmental studies.
I wanted to find something worthwhile in Expelled: an unexpected humour, a new twist on old arguments, a fresh characterization from the singular Stein. Instead, I got warmed-over Michael Moore, with the hand-held camera following Stein as he searches for the elusive Discovery Institute, a la Roger and Me; the interspersing of old newsreel footage and animation (Fahrenheit 9/11); even Stein lowering his voice an octave to underscore supposed deep-felt sincerity (Bowling for Columbine).
"That was Walt telling me to do that," says Stein, of aping Moore's "man looking for answers" shtick.
Still, "I frankly thought that these guys were slightly nutty, but I would investigate it a little further. And they raised a number of issues...and I thought, I'd just talk to some of these Darwinist scholars and they'll set me straight, and I'll relay that to Walt, and maybe we'll make a movie about something else. But when I talked to Darwinists, they had no explanation about anything...and I thought, 'Gosh, we're onto something here.'"
Well, whatever you think of Moore, at least his sympathies lie with the downtrodden and sick, and not, ya know, bat-shit insane fundamentalist Christians.
But the painful Moore-ism comes to an abrupt end about a third of the way into Expelled, as Stein enters into internet trolldom mode and compares mainstream scientists to, sigh,Nazis.
"The comparison could not be more real," says Stein. "I don't think you would find anyone who would dispute that was an extremely important influence on many high-ranking members of theNazi party."
And so Stein tours concentration camps and vivisection rooms, and deep-voiced people tell us how the Nazis were the evil, and therefore we should all start hating on Darwin.
Of course, this kind of pop historicism could be used to connect vegetarianism or sports to fascism as well (or more appropriately, the American native reservation system), but such arguments wouldn't be any less ridiculous. It's thoughtless reductionism of the worst sort.
But even this isn't new---I've seen this kind of amen chorus of absurdity before, when I was hitchhiking through Tennessee and an insistent preacher brought me to a tent revival meeting. Which, incidentally, is basically the last third of the film. Having earlier told us that "intelligent design" is real science, Stein goes on to say that Darwinism leads to godlessness and the resulting unchurched society going all to hell, and so intelligent design will lead us back to god and, I guess, puppies and virginal brides as well.
All this comes to a rousing crescendo of---believe it or not---Stein giving a lecture (after ripping off Moore, Ruloff rips off Al Gore) to a cheering crowd of moronic Campus Crusade for Christ types, interspersed with news footage of the Berlin Wall coming down overdubbed with Ronald Reagan's "Tear down that wall!" speech.
It makes for great unintended comedy, but Expelledisn't successful on any level at all. "Darwinists" and other rational people won't be won over, and the intended fundamentalist circuit should be insulted by the first part of the film, which makes a lame attempt at equating their religious beliefs with the scientific method.
To a Canadian audience, Stein's silly arguments will likely fall as flat as his fanciful musing about expropriating our water.