EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED
Ben Stein won’t endear himself to his Beverly Hills neighbors with his sardonic Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a documentary in Moore mode that manages to be flippant and darkly provocative at once. Ostensibly an exposé of the Darwinian cabal that has hijacked the scientific academy, purportedly squelching debate about alternative theories on the origins of life, Expelled evolves from a well-wrought warning of eroding freedoms into a brooding meditation on the dangers of secular humanism. Stein has embraced a strain of conservative thought that attempts to expose affinities between progressivism and fascism (represented in the film by Darwin and Hitler), but his use of Dachau, the German concentration camp, as a cautionary tale of science gone awry, as well as his choice of the Berlin Wall as a metaphor for the modern scientific mind, will send liberals into anaphylactic shock.
The movie doesn’t exactly defend Intelligent Design, a hypothesis that holds that the origin and structure of life on Earth is best explained by intelligent cause (in other words, by God), but it does defend researchers who advocate the position. One scientist in particular, biologist Richard Sternberg, has become a cause célèbre following his resignation, he claims under duress, from the Smithsonian Institution, where as a research fellow and managing editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, he published a peer-reviewed article on ID. Two other biologists, Guillermo Gonzalez and Caroline Crocker, claim they were forced from their universities because they wrote about ID or “briefly mentioned” the theory in the classroom.
Stein, a Yale-trained lawyer and Nixon speechwriter before he morphed into the engaging comic actor we know and love from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and “The Wonder Years,” argues that the abuse of these three scientists (and anonymous others who appear on camera in silhouette) represents a disturbing attack on free speech that is both anti-scientific and anti-American. He thus undertakes a quest to discover if, indeed, the so-called elite scientific establishment systematically put the kibosh on ID in order to protect its liberal ideological prejudices and political agenda. To this end, he interviews Sternberg and company as well as Richard Dawkins, leading proponent of neo-Darwinism and author of the bestselling book The God Delusion, and other ID debunkers.
Like most documentaries aiming to entertain as well as enlighten, Expelled takes a jocular approach to its subject, enlivening the proceedings with snarky archival footage and newsreels, ironic clips from classic flicks (Inherit the Wind, Frankenstein, The Wizard of Oz), and retro animation illustrating natural selection with slot machines. It’s good fun. Stein plays coy, lobbing big fat softballs to his interlocutors: “Aren’t we all Darwinists now, except for a few cranks?” Eventually, however, he grows earnest, setting up a declension by which Darwinists (that is, secular progressives) establish random chance as nature’s modus operandi, thereby eliminating divine purpose in the universe, undermining morality and destroying free will. “It appears Darwinism does lead to atheism,” he concludes.
But earnest is not enough for Stein, who proceeds to show how Darwinian theory led directly to the eugenics movement of the early 20th century and, in turn, begat Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood (heroine to the left, villain to the right) and inflamed the Nazi obsession with ethnic cleansing. Stein isn’t breaking new ground here. Numerous conservative authors, including historian Richard Weikart (From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany) and The National Review's Jonah Goldberg (Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning) have marched the topic into the front lines of the cultural wars.
Expelled isn’t likely to convince anyone unpredisposed to the notion that life has grand design and godly purpose, but these kinds of documentaries (as the producers of this one readily admit) make money by preaching to the choir. The problem with the genre is that many people who watch the film don’t have a scorecard to follow the inside baseball that ultimately makes them interesting. Do fans of Ben Stein the game-show host know that he was a longtime columnist for the notorious right-wing organ The American Spectator? Since Stein travels to Seattle to visit the offices of the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank sympathetic to Intelligent Design, should he I.D. interviewees who have connections to the foundation? He doesn’t, just as he fails to tell us that religion reporter Larry Witham, who talks about media coverage of Intelligent Design, was a longtime employee of the conservative newspaper The Washington Times.
The fact is, few filmmakers disclose such connections, partly because they haven’t time to do so in a feature-length movie, but mostly because they would undermine their own agendas. Ben Stein is about as fair and balanced as any of the new breed of documentarians, so the standard warning applies: Viewers beware.
An excellent cast carries this familiar crime story that relies on revelations a little far-fetched. More »
» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.
ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION
Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.
Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.