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Silent Bob moves from comics to the Good Book in 'Dogma'

By Graig Uhlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 5, 1999
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And now for a reading from the book of "Dogma," from the gospel according to Kevin Smith: God is a woman. Jesus was black. There were 13 apostles. Jesus had brothers and sisters.

These are just a few of the amendments that writer-director Kevin Smith ("Chasing Amy," "Clerks") makes to Christian theology in his new movie "Dogma," a comedic indictment of organized religion told through the farcical, fantasy story of the epic struggle between good and evil. The film displays a delicately handled balance between comedy and criticism, a tone set in the opening scene, and then carried throughout.

In the opening scene, the former Angel of Death -ěthe guy responsible for laying Sodom and Gomorrah to waste -ěLoki (Matt Damon), talks a nun out of her faith by citing the allegorical meaning behind Lewis Carroll's "Walrus and the Carpenter" poem. It's a funny scene, as many scenes of the film are, but there is a ubiquitous undercurrent of subtle jabs at the church.

The film centers around the plight of Loki and his fellow fallen angel, Bartleby (Ben Affleck), to get back into heaven through means of a loophole. That loophole is that a church in Red Bank, N.J. has obtained a papal sanction to bestow plenary indulgence (a clean-slating of all one's sins) to all those who pass through the church doors on a certain day as part of its "Catholicism, Wow!" campaign.

If Loki and Bartleby are allowed to pass through, and then die upon taking mortal form, they will get into heaven, which will negate all of existence by proving God wrong because all of the world functions on the basis that God is infallible.

If this plot sounds complicated, it's because it is. The film unfortunately spends a great deal of time not only explaining its own plot but Christianity itself.

Loki and Bartleby must be stopped so, in the typical fashion, God sends a human to do it. Bethany Sloan (an unimpressive Linda Fiorentino), works in an abortion clinic and is a descendant of Christ himself. She is the last Zion, whatever that means, but even so she can't do this alone. So she gets help from a series of unlikely companions: the prophets Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith), the 13th apostle Rufus (Chris Rock), the muse/stripper Serendipity (Salma Hayek) and the voice of God (Alan Rickman). The film is a lesson in good casting, especially the clever, tongue-in-cheek choice of George Carlin as Cardinal Glick.

The plot calls for action sequences that, under Smith's direction, look cheesy and staged. Smith does better when focusing on the moments of conversation during the film. His dialogue, as in his previous films, is interesting and exciting, full of pop culture references and draws the viewer in to more than the awkward fight scenes.

"Dogma" has a much more mature look and feel than Smith's other films, undoubtedly a result of the bigger budget and larger scope that this film attempts to cover. Yet it also feels more cartoonish. The movie has the feel of a comic book, reflecting the light-hearted nature with which Smith addresses the typically serious issue of religion.

Smith's portrayal of God is representative of this contrast between style and substance. Given the fact that any representation of the Almighty is bound not to live up to expectations, Smith makes the daring choice of casting Alanis Morissette (you know, that girl who sang about oral sex in a movie theater) as the Creator.

Morissette mostly stands around smiling that weird serene smile she has, playing a god that acts a lot like a child, doing handstands and smelling the flowers. It is hard to imagine the woman who thanked India so profusely as the fire-and-brimstone deity of the Old Testament as God, but as with everything else in this movie, nothing is to be taken seriously.

Religion, Smith wants us to believe, is not a weekly ritual of sitting in uncomfortable benches reciting meaningless prayers but something natural: the goodness within ourselves.

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