The Unbelievers comes across as a sort of rock band tour documentary, except for scientists instead of musicians. It follows renowned physicist Laurence Krauss and biologist Richard Dawkins together on a speaking tour of Australia, culminating in appearances at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, then later the Reason Rally in Washington D.C.
It primarily features many brief clips of debates and speeches they gave, a few of which have been available online for a while, along with some backstage footage. Though terse, these snippets enable them to explain a few of the key points of their fields of study, in Krauss’s case theoretical physics and the origin of the universe, and in Dawkins’; evolutionary biology.
Naturally, given the film’s brisk running time, they’re just giving you a taste of their work here, you’ll need to read their books for full explanations.
The film is bookended by talking heads featuring a large number of well-known figures who support the scientists’ work, including Woody Allen, Werner Herzog, Cameron Diaz, Sarah Silverman, Cormac McCarthy and others. Thankfully they’re not just there for empty celebrity endorsements, many of them have insightful remarks to contribute, Stephen Hawking even appears. There are also a few worthwhile clips from other prominent atheist activists like Sam Harris and Ayaan Hirsi Ali featured among the convention footage.
The Unbelievers’ stance is not purely to be anti-religion, it’s far more concerned with being pro-science. It rarely touches on making religious people look bad with only a couple of clips of angry protesters outside their speaking venues showing this side. However, it conveys, as it’s subjects agree, that scientific knowledge and faith do not and cannot go hand in hand; the more you understand about the real world we live in, the more of your holy text you must ultimately discard. A few moments touch on the presence of religion in the contemporary world, particularly in the field of US politics that serve as reminders of the film’s relevance.
Any documentary that takes a known position on a controversial subject is bound to be accused of simply ‘preaching to the choir’, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see The Unbelievers labelled as such (it’s a sad state of affairs that being pro-science should be controversial). For those already familiar with its scientist subjects, it’s not going to tell you much you don’t already know. It’s by no means a definitive document of these two scientists’ work, and they could have made a much longer and far more detailed film about their fields of science. But for those unfamiliar and interested, it can serve as a reasonably effective if all-too brief introduction to these men and their works. It should get a few people asking questions but it could have been so much more.