The easy thing to do here would be to turn the movie’s title, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” into the obvious snarky retort. Easy, probably cheap, too, and it would completely miss the mark. “Expelled” isn’t a stupid movie; it’s a movie that hopes you’re stupid, because if you aren’t able to at least catch a glimpse of its manipulations, then it, and narrator Ben Stein, can go about their business of cranking out the kind of dishonest, insulting propaganda they pretend to decry.
My use of the term “dishonest” isn’t meant to describe factual inaccuracies and outright lies in the film, necessarily — they are there, and they are legion, but I’ve only got about 500 words to work with here, you’ve got access to Google, and anyway it’s my job to review the movie, not the topic. No, it’s the film itself that is fundamentally dishonest and corrupt in its presentation and framing of this wearying debate.
There are too many points of entry here to choose from easily. There’s the fear mongering: Evidently, studying evolutionary biology will turn your kids into atheists. There’s the heavy-handed visual insinuation: Half of Ben Stein’s voice-overs about the scientific establishment are set to images of Stalin, Khrushchev and East Berlin. There’s the weird use of “experts”: Psychiatrists and sociologists (and, I believe, one or two completely unidentified people) show up to speak confidently about the current state of evolutionary biology. There’s the dodge: Stein claims to earnestly want to find out why most scientists feel Intelligent Design is a waste of time, and then edits his way around the answers.
The biggest lie of all, though, is the film’s premise. Stein tells us at the outset that he wants to get to the bottom of the Intelligent Design controversy and understand why pro-ID people are not being treated very well in the halls of academia. Instead, what he gives us is a sloppy but polished smear campaign against the very science he says he wants to liberate. In short, the film has not questions, but answers: If you believe evolution is wrong, then you are reasonable and smart, your dissenters are wrong — and what’s more, they’re stupid, cruel, evil and part of a dark conspiracy against freedom, truth and life itself.
It’s when we get to this point in Stein’s fallacy-ridden, two-faced drunken stumbling that the film stops being merely dishonest and starts being morally repugnant trash. We are told that evolution is responsible for the Holocaust — well, we get two sentences to the effect that there were other necessary causes (like, say, the Nazis), but pretty much every scientist who opposes ID is in favor of eugenics. They also hate your religion. In fact, their theories are incompatible with your faith. They worship death. They would put you in a gulag or have you killed, if they could.
It is, at bottom, a ballsy move: Stein is attempting to undermine and politicize science in the same way that he and his cohorts went after the news media, and he is actually doing it in the name of purging science of agendas and corruption. And it is at the end of all of this, after Stein carefully edits a quote from Darwin about the nobility of man’s compassion to make him sound like Hitler, that the fraud comes to a flag-waving, speechifying halt. The war has begun; you have your marching orders. Shoot first and ask questions later.