Kevin Smith’s ‘Dogma’ is a memorable mockery
“Dogma” is arguably one of the best and most controversial comedies of the ‘90s, addressing the divisive topic of religion and struggles in one’s faith. Despite its 1999 release, this cult classic’s risqué plot based on Catholic doctrine remains relevant to today’s society amidst continuous religious conflict.
With an all-star lineup featuring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Salma Hayek, Alan Rickman, Jason Lee, Chris Rock, George Carlin and Alanis Morisette, the film’s cast expertly delivers humor and starkly contrasting characters, both good and evil.
The film’s plot revolves around two fallen angels, Bartleby (Affleck) and Loki (Damon). Loki was God’s angel of death until Bartleby convinced him to drunkenly resign. As a result, Loki and Bartleby were banished from heaven and forced to spend the rest of eternity in Wisconsin, a place deemed worse than hell.
An anonymous tip-off leads the pair to a loophole in Catholic doctrine which can allow their return to heaven. Loki and Bartleby must only cut off their wings, walk through the doors of a church in New Jersey and die as humans. Based on the religious concept of God’s infallibility, Bartleby and Loki’s successful return to heaven would result in the end of human existence.
Metatron (Rickman), the voice of God, appears to a woman named Bethany Sloane to tell her she is the last Scion, and has been chosen by God to stop Bartleby and Loki. During her journey, she discovers she is the last living descendant of Jesus Christ.
God (Morissette) is unable to resolve the situation herself because she occasionally returns to earth as a human to play skee-ball. On ser last visit, she finds herself trapped in the body of a comatose man, unable to return to heaven.
Sloane is aided by two unlikely “prophets,” Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), Rufus (Rock), the 13th apostle who claims he isn’t in the Bible because he’s black and Serendipity (Hayek), a muse with writer’s block.
Sloane’s journey proves amusing, filled with witty dialogue and multiple jabs at Catholicism. God depicted as a woman also extends the film’s controversy.
Rickman does a fantastic job of portraying Metatron as obedient, wise and helpful, but also gives his character many human qualities, such as sarcasm and an affinity for tequila.
Affleck’s performance as Bartleby is one of his career’s best. Affleck gives the character finesse, portraying him as witty, thoughtful and intensely vengeful. Bartleby’s development as the plot progresses is nothing shy of ingenious.
“Dogma” was director Smith’s fourth film and one of the most popular among fans. The film utilizes many wide-angle shots, a trademark of Smith’s productions. His highly stylized directing gives audiences an interesting perspective while creating visually appealing action scenes.
His famously vulgar characters, Jay and Silent Bob, provide comic relief while playing pivotal roles in the plot. Though crass and immature, the two prove no one is beyond redemption with faith.
Using Biblical characters may seem risky, but each character’s conflict becomes real and relatable, showing how even ethereal beings fear similar human concepts such as loneliness, struggling faith and damnation.
Smith’s decision to give Affleck and Damon contrasting personalities in the leading roles was wise. The chemistry between the two becomes obvious onscreen while driving the plot and foreshadowing inevitable conflict.
Loki and Bartleby show the harshness of enforcing traditional Biblical commandments, seen best during a bus ride when Loki shoots a man in the head for committing adultery. This raises questions such as whether or not these Biblical violations deserve severe punishment in today’s society.
Due to the film’s sensitive plot content, its release was delayed. Smith received at least two death threats, and Catholic organizations in several countries organized protests to stop the film’s release.
Despite causing vast religious conflict, “Dogma” saw unexpected success in the box office, grossing roughly $30 million. Most critics found the film mediocre, but audience reception was positive.
“Dogma” is funny, thought provoking and borderline blasphemous. For Smith fans and audiences that find religious mockery humorous, this provocative comedy is a must-see.