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DOGMA, 1999
Movie Review

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DOGMA MOVIE POSTER
DOGMA, 1999
Movie Reviews

Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Alan Rickman, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, George Carlin
Review by Airlie Clarke



SYNOPSIS:

A human is tapped to save all of existence by preventing two fallen angels from re-entering heaven.

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REVIEW:

Disney / Miramax agreed to distribute it, then dropped it like a hot potato. The filmmakers received 300,000 pieces of hate mail in reaction to it. Catholics protested outside theatres to stop anyone from seeing it.

Welcome to our last of four Most Controversial Movies of the Last Decade: DOGMA.

Loki and Bartleby (Damon and Affleck) are two angels condemned to live in Wisconsin as a consequence of being banished from Heaven. When a Catholic Church in New Jersey declares that anyone who enters its arches will be resolved of all sins -- an act of plenary indulgence, an obscure religious doctrine -- the ne’er-do-well angels see a loophole to ensure their acceptance back into Heaven. The catch? If they DO complete their task, God’s will (i.e. to banish them in the first place) is rendered fallible. Since the basis of all faith rests on God’s absolute infallible power, any attempt to thwart this power would cause all of existence to crumble and cease to be. When angel Metatron (Rickman) catches wind of the plan, he calls on the very ordinary human being Bethany Sloane to foil it, claiming that she’s the last Zion and that it’s her duty to intervene. Despite her reluctance, and with the help of God’s helpers Serendipity (Hayek) and Jay & Silent Bob (Mewes and director Smith), Metatron convinces Bethany to complete her task. The angels are killed, existence is saved, and God HERself (played by singer Alanis Morissette) makes a special appearance.

Now, I’m not a big Kevin Smith fan, but I really enjoy this film. Perhaps it’s because, as I’ve mentioned in earlier reviews, I am non-religious and especially have trouble getting on board with the Catholic faith. ‘Dogma’ picks up every piece of Catholic tradition and examines it using characters as un-conservative as you can get. For example, African American comedian Chris Rock plays the so-called thirteenth apostle and speaks in the rough, cutting jive he’s famous for. He claims that Jesus is black like himself, and to boot, “the n**ger owes me twelve bucks!” God is not only toted as female, but played by an indie rock star known for singing about her disastrous love life. Damon and Affleck, real life best friends, make a natural comedy duo as the fallen angels, and Loki’s gleeful return to killing sinners on Earth is as darkly funny as Smith has ever been. ‘Dogma’ is the kind of movie you laugh all the way through -- only it’s that devious, snorting kind of laugh you make when it’s clear what you’re watching is going to piss a lot of people off.

And there IS a lot in this film to piss people off. Catholics, bible-thumpers… really anyone who is a conservative, inflexible God-lover runs the risk of being offended. Even the very idea of this film outraged certain Catholic factions -- hoards of them protested outside movie theatres even though they hadn’t seen the film yet. (Smith, in a genius act of irony, joined one of these protests in New Jersey without revealing his name. When interviewed by a news crew he said he was there because “I don’t think [the movie] stands for anything positive.”) Image-conscious Disney / Miramax was originally slated to distribute ‘Dogma,’ but due to the controversy surrounding the film they shelved it for a year before finally relenting to the pressure and selling it to the more daring Lions Gate Entertainment. During that year hate mail poured into Disney / Miramax -- some of it anti-Semitic barbs at the Jewish heads of Miramax, the Weinstein brothers -- and to Smith’s production company View Askew Productions. For a while Smith posted a ‘Hate Letter of the Week’ section on the movie’s website (although it has now been disabled -- I checked) and claimed that there were numerous death threats amongst them. In the movie’s defence the director says, "We're not talking about the fallibility of God, just the foibles of those who claim to represent him. Actually, the idea is 'Church good — God better.’" In fact, as soon as Lions Gate took over distribution duty the controversy died down. Smith says that once many of the traditional Catholic groups actually viewed the film they changed their tune, and that amongst the groups "some of them think it's stupid and juvenile, but not one person found it anti-religious."

So there you have it -- ‘Dogma’ is a movie that outraged people, sight unseen, at the first whiff of its presence. Smith says it isn’t an anti-Catholic movie and the critics and religious groups eventually agreed with him, but what if it were an anti-Catholic movie? What happened to freedom of speech? He certainly wouldn’t have been the first artist to protest some aspect of society, and he wouldn’t have been the last. But as it is, ‘Dogma’ is a film that asks questions and satirizes the institution of “God,” but explores and rejoices in “God” as human beings know Him. Or… is it Her?

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