Dogma is a film I wanted to see in the cinema earlier this year, but never got round to. Now that it’s out on video, I was straight down to Blockbuster to check it out. I didn’t really know what it was about, beyond that it was a black comedy starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as a couple of angels, and that it had offended a lot of people because of its irreverent blasphemy. Even if I hadn’t had friends recommend it to me, this would have been enough to get me to go and see it. (Just so you know where I’m coming from.)
The story follows two Angels, Loki and Bartleby (Damon and Affleck), who were exiled from Heaven a long time ago, and now live in Wisconsin. At the start of the film, they discover a loophole in Catholic dogma which would allow them to re-enter Heaven. But because the universe is built on the perfect infallibility of God, allowing them back in would create a contradiction which would destroy the whole of existence. Cue Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino), a doctor in an abortion clinic, who is visited by the Metatron (Alan Rickman) and charged with the mission to stop this from happening. On the way, she is helped by Rufus, the thirteenth apostle (Chris Rock) and two prophets, Jay and Silent Bob (recurring characters from Kevin Smith’s earlier films, Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy).
The film has one major message, and the script hammers it home at almost every opportunity: organised religion is a Bad Thing. It nails the Catholic Church in particular, but takes well-aimed swipes at the rest of Christianity and a variety of other belief systems. The film is not anti-God, though: God’s existence is fundamental to the story. But it states quite boldly that organised religions everywhere are to blame for God’s word being garbled and perverted. If you are happy with this theme, or if you are willing to accept it for the duration of the film, you’ll probably enjoy it immensely, because it is very, very funny and surprisingly emotional.
Because it is an ensemble piece (Damon and Affleck’s star billings notwithstanding), the characters aren’t explored in quite as much depth as I would have liked. The characters of Jay and Silent Bob don’t need any developing, but Loki, Bartleby and Bethany all undergo profound emotional changes, which are glossed over by some fast talking and smooth scripting. Also, the grand finale and its aftermath are drawn out for too long, and could have used some sharper editing. But in the face of all the fantastic comic moments (the Excremental, the “Buddy Jesus”, Rufus falling from the sky, Jay’s pathetic misogynism) these are easily forgivable sins.
As a comedy, Dogma is hilarious, and more intelligent and insightful than anything else you’re likely to see this year. Watch it with a pizza, a couple of beers, and an open mind, and you’ll have a great time. Highly recommended.