Looking back at Kevin Smith’s Dogma

Carley takes a retrospective look at an irreverential movie that still inspires the odd Letter To The Editor...

Kevin Smith's Dogma (1999)

“You tell someone you’re a Metatron, they stare at you blankly. You mention something out of a Charlton Heston movie and suddenly everyone is a theology scholar!” – Metatron

Religious films have always been slightly controversial. The line is so fine that if you attempt to make a movie in the genre, you will eventually offend somebody. The best example of this is probably Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ, which to this day is still banned in some countries. More recently the church has been up in arms over The Da Vinci Code and some Jewish leaders were offended by Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ. Even comedic fair failed to amuse the establishment with Month Python’s Life Of Brian being banned in Ireland for eight years for being blasphemous.

But that didn’t deter Kevin Smith in his perhaps most ambitious cinematic outing, which was a satire of the Catholic Church, and would result in Smith receiving over 30,000 pieces of hate mail and two death threats.

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Dogma is the fourth film set in Smith’s ‘View Askewuniverse’ and focuses on two fallen Angels, Bartleby (Ben Affleck), a Watcher, and Loki (Matt Damon), an Angel of Death. After getting drunk and challenging God they are banished to a fate worse than Hell, Wisconsin, for the rest of eternity. Not being entirely happy with this, the two spend their days trying to figure out a way to get back into Heaven.

They see their salvation in an article sent to them about a church in Red Bank, New Jersey which is celebrating its centennial anniversary with a plenary indulgence (basically a full remission of sins which have been forgiven – see, I paid attention in Religious Education, Miss Simmons). This means as soon as they pass through the church doors they will be able to re-enter Heaven, forgiven for their pasts. What they don’t realise is that by doing so they would overrule the word of God, which would destroy existence as we know it.

With God being stuck in human form somewhere on Earth, the task to save the world falls onto the shoulders of Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino), a lapsed Catholic whose faith has more or less been destroyed as she has found out she is infertile. She is also the last Scion, the only living relative of the union of Mary and Joseph.

When Metatron (Alan Rickman), an Angel who acts as the Voice of God, appears to her to tell her about the task at hand, she firstly is disbelieving. How can a lapsed Catholic who works at an abortion clinic save existence? Metatron explains she needs to take a leap of faith and she won’t be working alone, as two prophets will accompany her. And although she won’t know who they are, the talkative one will reveal himself.

When Bethany wakes up in her bed the next morning she thinks everything was a dream and carries on life as normal. But when three hockey kids attack her outside work she is saved by Jay and Silent Bob, who reveal themselves to be the prophets that Metatron spoke of the night before. While they start the journey to Jersey, they are joined by Rufus (the fabulous Chris Rock), the thirteenth apostle, who literally falls out of the sky, who, although he wants to help Bethany save existence, also wants to ensure he is included in the Bible, and Serendipity (Salma Hayek), a muse who has turned stripper because she is having a dry spell with creating good ideas.

Also making their way to Jersey are Bartleby and Loki, who have decided on the way to kill people for their various sins to get back on God’s good side. Their main target is the Mooby Corporation whose use of a golden cow mascot is idolatry (worship of a cult image, idea or object). After finishing off their board of directors they are approached by Azrael (Jason Lee), a former muse who warns them that both the forces of Heaven and Hell are trying to kill them.

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As their journey continues, the two sides meet up on a train, unbeknownst to each other. Bethany and Bartleby strike up a conversation and when Bethany reveals her mission, they begin to fight. Bartleby threatens to kill Bethany but she is saved when Silent Bob throws them off the train. With time running out Metatron reveals to Bethany that God actually is MIA. The group make it to Jersey and plead with Cardinal Glick (the irreplaceable George Carlin) to cancel the celebrations, but he refuses as he is launching ‘Buddy Christ’.

When trying to figure out what to do next, the group is captured by Azrael, who admits to being behind the entire scheme as he is fed up with living in Hell. A fight ensues and they escape, but they can’t stop Bartleby – fresh with the feeling of power from almost killing Bethany – murdering everybody outside the church. Loki, already in human form, attempts to save the gang, but Bartleby ends up killing him.

While Bethany and Silent Bob figure out what has kept God trapped for so long, Jay ends up shooting off Bartleby’s wings, turning him human. As he attempts to enter the Church, God (Alanis Morissette) appears and mercifully kills him, while bringing back to life all those he had killed. She also brings Bethany back to life and impregnates her with an heir.

There is a lot I like about Dogma. As with Smith’s previous films, writing and direction are spot on, there are plenty of laughs and set-pieces, the poop demon attack and Cardinal Glicks’s ‘Buddy Christ’ being high up there. But there is an almost sensitive side which Smith suitably plays throughout. The angry relationship that Bethany has with God in the beginning because of her inability to have children is resolved over the course of the movie, and her faith returns to her. There are also many philosophical discussions about Jesus and God and faith, which are far more thoughtful than preachy, and give the movie an extra depth.

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As with most Kevin Smith movies there is also a great ensemble cast. Honourable mentions here go to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon who play well against each other as the fallen Angels, and you can see their real life friendship on the screen.

Chris Rock is on top form as Rufus as is George Carlin as Cardinal Glick. The lead of Bethany is played straight by Linda Fiorentino and she really anchors the chaos around her. And as always the double team of Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith are fantastic as Jay and Silent Bob and really set themselves up nicely for their own big screen adventure, which Smith would move on to next.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, a lot of people were offended by the idea of this movie, but although it does poke fun at the Catholic Church, I see it as not so much a love letter, but a cheeky wink to the entire religious experience.

After Dogma Smith decided to close the ‘View Askewuniverse’ and go out in style by making the two constants throughout his movies the leads in his next. Jay and Silent Bob? Time to step into the spotlight…

Dogma Key Info:Released: 12th November 1999 (US) / 26th December 1999 (UK)Distributed By: Lions Gate FilmsBudget: $10,000,000Box Office Gross: $30,651,422Best DVD Edition: Dogma Special Edition

 

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