Welcome to Film Freak, where I review movies I’ve seen. I figured what better way to start this than with one of the most controversially negative takes on the Christian religion (to be fair, Kevin Smith mostly takes stabs at Catholicism, but still, you take stabs at one denomination, you’re taking stabs at all of us.), Dogma.
Release: 1999, Columbia/Tristar
Studio: View Askew/Columbia/Tristar
MPAA: R (Graphic violence, strong language, nudity)
Director: Kevin Smith
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
My Rating: 5/10
Summary: Loki (Ben Affleck) and Bartleby (Matt Damon) are two fallen angels who want to get back into Heaven and decide to do so by staging a massacre at at celebration of a Catholic Church’s centennial in New Jersey. God sends five beings to stop them: Bethany (Linda Florentino), a disillusioned Catholic woman working at an abortion clinic; Metatron (Alan Rickman), a seraphim acting as “God’s voice”; Rufus (Chris Rock) the 13th apostle; Seredipity (Salma Hayek) a muse; and it wouldn’t be a Kevin Smith movie without the potty-mouthed Jay (Jason Mewes) and the aptly-named Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) Complicating matters is a demon named Azrael (Jason Lee) and his minions.
Review: Believe it or not, I liked this movie more than I thought I would. It brought up some good points and some bad points. First, let’s talk about the good points:
1. The Disclaimer was hilarious! Smith reminds us about the famous line people keep forgetting exists in the Bible: Judge not, lest ye be judged. He also reminds us God has a sense of humor. The evidence: the platypus. I agree, the platypus is certainly a funny animal. Think about it, it’s a mammal that lays eggs, it has venom on its webbed feet, and let’s not forget the bill. Seriously, God, what were you thinking when you created this wonderful creature? (For the record, the platypus is one of my favorite animals) And then he apologizes to those who would be offended because now he got on the platypus’s case.
2. The movie starts off with an excellent line that really sums up something I’ve learned myself: “Faith is like a glass of water. When you’re young, the glass is little, As you get older, the glass gets bigger and the liquid just doesn’t fill it anymore. So, periodically, the glass needs to be refilled.” No matter how deep into the faith you are, you will need to refill it so you can still maintain the “childlike faith” that God wants us to maintain. I have problems with this myself. My solution: look at the beauty of nature. Sunsets do it to me every time.
3. When Serendipity said she takes issue with anyone who sees faith as a burden and not a blessing. This reminded me of how people often don’t consider thanking God enough and will only come to him when things go sour and even then, they whine and complain. As Christians, we are supposed to involve God in both our successes and failures. We are supposed to see each day as an offering to lay at God’s feet as a gift. After all, if it weren’t for God, we wouldn’t even have the day in the first place!
4. The “Buddy Christ” statue Cardinal Glick (George Carlin) unveils at the church. I thought it was funny, personally. Who says all the pictures of Jesus have to be depressing? He was human too, don’t forget.
5. The two fallen angels. Smith remembered that since Loki and Bartleby are fallen, that technically puts them on the “wrong” side. So naturally, everything they do, we aren’t supposed to approve of. I especially liked the scene in the boardroom where Loki named off every sin the executives had committed and comes across one woman who hasn’t done any major sins. He actually spares her. It reminded me of that scene in Genesis where Abraham asks God if there was at least one good person in Sodom, would he spare that one person. God said yes.
6. When Bethany doused the burning bush with a fire extinguisher, I laughed hard.
7. Rufus. Just Rufus. Especially when he complained that the whole reason he was left out of the Bible because he was black. Yep, that’s Chris Rock for you. But the best line he said? How about this:
Okay, now for the bad points:
1. Kevin Smith is, at best, what you would call a “lapsed Catholic”. It’s basically the same thing as being nominally Christian. He doesn’t want the trappings of the church–the rules, the doctrines, none of that. He really just wants to keep right on sinning. It just doesn’t work that way, folks. Yes, our sins are forgiven–but you have to be truly sorry. We have to do our part. I don’t think Kevin Smith wants to do his part. This brings up another problem.
2. Rufus tells us that God wants ideas, not beliefs. He believes the whole problem started when we wrapped a whole religion around Christ’s teachings. Look, that’s not what Jesus was about. He himself said “I come not to abolish, but to fulfill.” Yes, he wanted us to pass his teachings along. That is the point of religion.
3. My biggest beef was when it was revealed that Mary had other children besides Jesus. This is a heresy. According to Catholic faith, Mary was a virgin both before and after Jesus’ birth. His depiction of Jesus having siblings can be considered a bit blasphemous for this. Now, there are times when we do see people referred to as Jesus’s siblings, but this is what you call circumlocution. Those people were actually Jesus’s cousins, a word that doesn’t exist in Aramaic. It was simply easier to say “brother” or “sister” than “son of my mother’s brother”. Also, if Jesus did have brothers, then why would he have left Mary in the care of John the Evangelist, who wasn’t even a blood relative?
4. The second scene with Cardinal Glick. He had the audacity to imply that Christianity wants to “hook [kids] when they’re young”, prompting Jay to compare it to the tobacco industry. Look, the whole reason any religion is taught to the young is to keep the faith alive. If we don’t teach the young, the faith won’t spread. This is nothing like the tobacco industry, which poisons people. Faith enriches people.
5. The scene where Metron claims that Jesus didn’t want to fulfill God’s mission that was laid out for him. Sorry, I don’t buy that. That doesn’t sound like someone who loved us enough to lay down his life for us.
6. When we finally see God in the flesh, so to speak. Now, I have no issue with God being played by a woman. Here’s a little something that may sound heretical to some of you: I believe God has no gender. So no, having Alanis Morrissette as God didn’t bother me. What bothered me was how she was portrayed. She’s portrayed as a gleeful child. To me, this almost makes me think Kevin Smith is implying that we are all God’s playthings and that God is, well, a jerk.
All in all, this isn’t really that bad a movie if you have a strong enough faith to take some constructive, well-deserved criticism. I know full well the church’s people aren’t perfect, so I took all that in stride. I guess what helped was what I knew–Kevin Smith isn’t Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher. He actually is a believer. He just has his doubts. And God certainly has room for doubters, just ask Thomas.