Written by Leslie Clark Directed by Catherine Tatge Starring Simon Jones & Peter Eyre Discussion led by Dr. Armand Nicholi Roundtable: Jeremy Fraiberg, Winifred Gallagher, Douglas Holladay, Margaret Klenck, Frederick Lee, Louis Massiah, Michael Shermer
Discussion guide (in PDF form)
Released by: PBS. Rating: NR. Region: 1 Anamorphic: N/A; program appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: At least rent it. Deep thinkers among you will want it and the book.
Dr. Armand Nicholi conducts a seminar at Harvard regarding the existence of God. In order to illustrate the yay and nay sides of the debate, he brings in C.S. Lewis on one side and Sigmund Freud on the other. Lewis, for those three of you unfamiliar with the man, is a famed Christian apologist who loved God so much he ruined the end of his Narnia series for Him. Freud, raised Jewish, is famed more for founding psychoanalysis and pointing out God is a nice idea but He’s just not out there, than he is for being seemingly obsessed by sex. In this program, you get some talking heads and recreations of Freud and Lewis’ lives (acted out by Eyre & Jones, respectively) outlining their lives and introducing you to their backgrounds. You also get Dr. Nicholi and a varied roundtable of folks having a discussion about the various issues that come from the presence of God or the lack thereof.
The program on the whole is fascinating. At first, I was so intrigued by the roundtable discussions that I found the Lewis/Freud segments to be a distraction, albeit a well executed one. However, it all began to blend halfway through the first part of the program as the discussions began to draw more upon the issues brought up in the two men’s lives. The roundtable is an interesting blend of folks: among them a documentary filmmaker (believer), a physician (believer with reservations), a lawyer (agnostic), and Needcoffee fave Dr. Michael Shermer, editor-in-chief of Skeptic Magazine (take a wild guess). While at some points the talk gets a little spirited (ha), it’s well managed by Dr. Nicholi and brings up some very interesting areas. At one point, Dr. Shermer outlines how The Golden Rule was, in his mind, created by evolution, since in a community it’s easier to get along if you’re a nice person (and not just faking it), so therefore that is reinforced. It was then appropriated by religion after the fact. He also, in my favorite moment, as Dr. Lee is talking about his inability to reconcile his faith with the story of Job, says to Lee that he should try being an atheist for a year, that “he’d be fine.” Dr. Nicholi then admonishes Shermer lightly for proselytizing. Just fascinating stuff.
Jones (yes, the former Arthur Dent) and Eyre both make for very convincing figureheads to put all this on. Rather than a lot of recreations you get, where it’s somebody just made up to look like the person in question and they’re reading from a teleprompter, the two of them actually seem to have put some real effort into their roles. Which is partly why I was able to eventually get into their sections of the program and go with it.
If anything, the ending of the program is the weakest point, where it just sort of…ends. Which is all you can do with such a debate as this, since it’s not like you’re going to be able to convince anybody one way or the other. But still, it felt like it needed a better closure of some kind than switching back to far away shots of Eyre and Jones in character and two lines of narration.
Another weakness is the bonus features. For something like this, you’d think the very least we could expect is additional footage of the roundtable, which is what I was craving, honestly. Writings of Freud and Lewis are no doubt not public domain, so there’s no worry about that–they can be found readily enough as it stands, but still, a recommended reading list would have been a no-brainer. There is additional stuff, but it can all be found on the PBS website. Which is sad, because it’s mostly text-based, so why not just stick on the disc to begin with? At least we could have had some bios of the roundtable participants on the disc, and good ones, please…the ones on the PBS website are sparse and not even worth showing up for. There is a discussion guide provided on the disc, but again, that’s in PDF form and needs your computer to take advantage of it.
Dr. Armand Nicholi
If this content is up your alley, I’d say buy this regardless, because the program itself is fascinating enough to warrant multiple watchings. If you have only a passing interest, at least rent it.