Junk science meets even junkier filmmaking in Nathan Frankowski’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed—a no more shameless, stupid and loathsome piece of propaganda has ever skulked its way into the theater. Frankowski really should have chosen a different subtitle for the film (my vote is for Win Ben Stein’s Brain Cell), since he seems to have succumbed to the “no intelligence allowed” credo in attempting to make his point.
Former Nixon speechwriter, droning movie personality, game-show host and eyewash shill Ben Stein—who cowrote the film—schlepps his way through this undertaking like the lead in some bargain-basement 1930s serial, which is to say that the man wears the same clothes throughout the entire film. He must have been as aromatic as the film by the end of the shoot. And what is Stein’s quest? Why, to find out the “truth” about why intelligent design isn’t being taught in classrooms and to expose why it isn’t taken seriously by the scientific community. At least, that’s the tenuous claim Expelled makes in an effort to attain some stature as a documentary.
The reality is that the film is as phony as Stein’s “just folks” posturing. This is nothing but stacked-deck religious-right propaganda palmed off as a serious debate on intelligent design—a concept that the film itself never actually explains. There’s a good reason for that, since any explanation of the concept immediately proves that intelligent design isn’t science, but a philosophical or religious proposition, the very basis of which rests on the existence of a supreme being. As a friend of mine noted, intelligent design isn’t anything but creationism “in a cheap tuxedo.” Frankowski and Stein both realize this, and rather than deal with the issue, they trot out the smoke-and-mirrors legacy handed down to them by Spiro Agnew with his “liberal media” and the standard right-wing outcry of oppression. (Anyone care to explain how it’s possible to be the “silent majority” and an oppressed minority at the same time?)
One of the problems with this film is that the filmmakers can’t even stick to their own dubious agenda. They spend the first part of the film trying to paint intelligent design as a scientific theory, only to spend the last third of the film railing about atheists—and falsely presenting all Darwinists as atheistic, while making no distinction between scientific Darwinism and social Darwinism. True, all documentaries and documentarians have some kind of agenda, and they all make decisions that support that point of view, but Expelled uses tactics that would make even Michael Moore cringe. In fact, the film attempts to use the Michael Moore approach. Alas, Stein lacks Moore’s intelligence, wit and—God save us—acting ability. (Well, we are talking about a guy who essentially parlayed saying, “Anyone? Anyone?” into some kind of career.)
But really what’s so base and corrupt about the film lies in its dazzling intellectual leaps. These start with linking the scientific community and the media to Stalin and Khrushchev—insert stock footage and create unfounded, historically spurious connection. A little more stock footage of bullies and some shots of the Berlin Wall represents the scientific community of Darwinists keeping out (or in) those freedom-loving intelligent-design folks—more guilt by filmmaking association. (The irony is that this is all grounded in Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of montage.) This sort of thing is interspersed with interview footage of intelligent-design martyrs—whose martyrdom becomes sketchier and sketchier the more you check into their actual histories. (I never really did figure out the identity of the über-effete—think Rex Reed times 10—expert in Paris who spent most of his interview reclining.)
All this builds to the film going completely nutzoid as it proceeds to link eugenics to modern-day Planned Parenthood and the theory of evolution to Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust. Stein—who at this point is making an issue of his Jewishness—is determined to equate genocide to Darwinism, despite the fact that genocide predates Charles Darwin by some considerable time. In fact, the Old Testament has its fair share of the practice. This may be the most morally vile exploitation of the Holocaust on record. Not content with the inserted horrific clips, we’re also treated to Stein pretending he’s just heard about Dachau for the first time and burying his face in his hands after the fashion of a 19th-century manual of dramatic gestures. It’s one of the most stomach-churning moments in the history of film. By the end of this thing, Stein is being intercut with footage of a Reagan speech to apparently make some kind of equation between the two. Funny thing is, you could replace the Reagan footage with, say, Mussolini footage and make a very different impression, but that would be dishonest, wouldn’t it? And the filmmakers would never want that. Rated PG for thematic material, some disturbing images and brief smoking.