Wednesday, August 28, 2019

I Finally Watched Dogma

Introduction to the series
Clerks review
Mallrats review
Chasing Amy review

Well, a downturn was inevitable. How else does one explain Kevin Smith's often self-deprecating sense of humor about his own work?

Now, let me admit something: I wrote that opening line before I had finished the movie. Which is a way of saying I enjoyed the ending, but largely didn't enjoy the movie preceding it.


Based purely on Smith's on stage persona and the type of guy he is in the podcasts I listen to, going into the Kevin Smith filmography, I had a certain expectation about what his movies were like. As I've mentioned in my reviews of Mallrats and Chasing Amy, those expectations were torn asunder with what I got on screen.

With the wildly divergent kinds of movies the initial three films of Smith's are, I had nothing in the way of knowing what to expect with Dogma (1999), his fourth film. It didn't land on my radar in 1999. I don't even remember hearing about it. The only thing I knew about this film was the presence of Jay and Silent Bob and Alan Rickman.

The Cast

Over the years, and especially when Rickman died in 2016, Smith has talked reverently about the actor. I was very curious to hear and watch Rickman deliver some Smith-penned dialogue. In every scene in which he appeared, Rickman was stellar.

Well, truth be told, most of the cast was pretty good. Ben Affleck (Bartleby) and Matt Damon (Loki) are fallen angels looking to get back into heaven via a loophole in the holy law. Seeing and hearing them deliver Smith dialogue was mostly good, but only in the smaller moments. Like on the bus when the pair see a couple making out and Loki predicts--correctly--that they are not married. I enjoyed seeing them take their road trip from Wisconsin to New Jersey, but some of the banter was just off.

Linda Fiorentino as Bethany Sloane,  an abortion clinic counselor, is pretty good, especially when she comes across with the gruff, seen-it-all sensibility. She's a perfect foil to Jay and Silent Bob, especially while keeping her squeamishness about Jay at bay. It was interesting to see her transformation from skeptic to believer by the end of the film. 

Jason Lee is back as a demon, and he's brought along three hockey-stick welding demons (sub-demons? Lieutenant demons?) to help him. He doesn't have as much dialogue as he did in Mallrats or Chasing Amy, but it's always a joy to see him on screen speaking Smith's dialogue.

Jay and Silent Bob as Prophets?

Which brings me to Jay and Silent Bob. They make their on-screen appearance saving Bethany from the triplet demons in such a way that I initially thought they were going to be transformed into super heroes. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. They're still just their same old selves. But Bob, at the end, gets some emotional heft, a nice change to the character who uttered some fantastic bits of life advice in Clerks and Chasing Amy.

Speaking of Silent Bob, um, speaking, I knew exactly what he was going to say right before he said, "No ticket." When it comes to Bob's dialogue, I guess it's the inverse of the Star Trek films: great wisdom in the odd-numbered films; jokes in the even-numbered ones.

The Ending

So I kind of struggled to watch most of the movie leading up to the ending. I liked bits and pieces of the film along the way, but it didn't seem to add up to a whole.

The ending, however, worked wonders for me. Really, really enjoyed it. By ending, I'm talking about the part when God, as played by Alanis Morissette, shows up on screen. Loved that she didn't talk, leaving Metatron to translate for the mortals and immortals. It serves the point not to get inside God's head because we humans can never comprehend God's thoughts. We will only understand once we shed these mortal coils and enter into heaven.

Then, after seeing all the death and destruction brought on by Loki and Bartleby, the camera zooms in to her face and then back out again. All is well. All evidence of the carnage is gone. Everything is back to normal. Peace has been restored.

But Bethany, who martyred herself, is still dead. Her lifeless body carried by Bob, who is opening crying. God walks over and, with a smile, heals Bethany, bringing her back to life.

I really liked this interpretation of the Almighty, especially in a film so unabashedly irreverent.

Kevin Smithims

First mention, if I remember correctly, of Hetero Life Mate.

The Verdict

The ending, alas, was not enough for me to enjoy the film as a whole. Like with Clerks, maybe I'm too old to get this. Maybe my own faith leads me to see the world differently. Don't get me wrong: I wasn't offended by what happened in the film or what was said. I just see the faithful life more like what God does in the end of the film rather than all the legalistic dialogue spoken by various characters. Damon and Affleck do a great job at pointing out all the flaws of humanity in their trek from Wisconsin to New Jersey. I know these kinds of things happen all the time and it sure would be nice to live in a world where sin was vanquished.

But we're human. We are imperfect. Perfection exists on a different plane, in heaven. Hopefully, we'll get there. In the meantime, we'll have to deal with all the crap we have to deal with down here on earth, always striving to remain vigilant and do the best we can.

In his first three films, Kevin Smith took on pop culture, life, love, and relationships. I enjoyed them all, each in their own way. With Dogma, he turned his focus on religion. Frankly, it surprised me. I would like to know why. Was it his Catholic school upbringing? Did he have some lingering stuff to deal with and Dogma was the way to deal? I'm genuinely curious because in the credits for these four films, Smith thanks God in all of them. Clearly Smith is a believer and knows from whence his talent is derived.

No matter why he made Dogma, I appreciate that he did. Clearly it's not the film for me, but that's okay. An artist should be free to follow whatever muse he wants, and Smith wanted to make Dogma. He did. Some liked it, some didn't. Perhaps more people didn't, and that's why his next film was Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Let's see what happens.

1 comment:

Jay said...

Really enjoying this series, Scott. just some thoughts.... Dogma is Smith's take on what man has done with religion. It's less to do with his own faith more the commercialisation (Buddy Christ), the false idolisation (Moobys) and the fallibility of man interpreting an infallibility of a deity (the loophole Loki and Bartleby want to exploit). It's more, for me, a comment on society and how we have taken what, is in essence a set of rules on how to be good, and they've been morphed into something very different from that.

I also don't know whether you've seen this but it's a great story about the time Smith protested the release of Dogma....