Thursday 6 June 2013

Dogma (1999)

Alan Rickman IS Metatron, God's messenger to humankind
YellowToast, my fellow Radio KoL DJ, suggested I watch 'Dogma' for 1999.  The year came down to either this or Gilbert & Sullivan biopic 'Topsy-Turvy' (which is very good), but I'd only seen 'Dogma' once, long ago, and was curious to revisit it.  Happy coincidence meant I found a copy in a charity shop almost immediately.

So, it goes something like this.  There are two somewhat fallen angels, one of them the erstwhile Angel of Death, who have been living on Earth for millennia, but find a loophole in Catholic doctrine which would allow them to return to Heaven, from which they were once banished.  (In short, all they have to do is walk through the archway of a certain reconsecrated church, and then die.  It sounds theologically iffy, but they're counting on an obscure and arcane piece of church dogma, and on Jesus' promise to St Peter in in Matthew 18: 18 that what is bound on Earth will be bound in Heaven, meaning that blessings, however bizarre, affirmed by the church will count in Heaven too, at least by the interpretation here).  The angels are played by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and this big-name casting initially makes them seem like they must be the main characters; indeed, their scheme sounds reasonable and their plight sympathetic, but their schemes for salvation soon begin to look destructive, even villainous.

This is what God looks like, sometimes
An unlikely saviour is found in Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), a Catholic abortionist on the cusp of losing her faith entirely.  This being a Kevin Smith film, Bethany eventually finds herself accompanied by those two excellent churls Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith himself), a pleasingly unlikely pairing for the crusade to New Jersey.  Along the way there's wealth of adventure, action and comedy, and a particularly starry guest cast including Chris Rock, Salma Hayek and a surprisingly good performance by Alanis Morissette.  Perhaps predictably, my favourite casting is Alan Rickman as the pallid, sarcastic and coolly British messenger of God.  God himself is in a coma in hospital, which complicates matters somewhat.

Silent Bob, Jay and Bethany regard a naked apostle.
The film opens with disclaimer that it's only a comedy, and shouldn't be taken seriously.  To my mind it sells itself short here.  For all its whimsy and crude comedy, 'Dogma' is a rare, mature discussion of faith, its purpose and its loss.  I don't necessarily agree with its findings, but I'm glad of the discussion, so it's a pity writer/director Kevin Smith felt a need to include a slide telling us not to give it much credence.  If it stopped extremists burning down cinemas, I suppose it's worthwhile, but I don't feel that the film lacks theological merit.

It's a pity there aren't more comedies about God.  There are some, I suppose, but usually not funny ones, and rarely do they cast Him in a positive light without making Him seem tedious.  The only other well known Christianity-flavoured comedy that comes to mind is 1979's 'Monty Python's Life of Brian', but that's more a satire on religion and politics, and the existence of God is never explicitly discussed.  'Dogma', though, is surely as agreeable to an atheist audience as to a Christian one, and this without refraining from crudeness and offensiveness.  Having twice enjoyed this and the two Clerks films (1994, 2006) I'm quite tempted to seek out Smith's other View Askewniverse movies - though I may wait until the end of this Penciltonian project to do so, lest I overburden you with movies of similar flavour.

Hey look, buyable things.

1 comment:

  1. What about "Bruce Almighty" (2003) as a theologically-charged comedy? From the posters, I expected I would find that film terribly offensive, but actually I didn't find it to be when I eventually got round to seeing it. (Maybe it comes under your heading of "usually not funny" ones, although that would likely depend upon your general attitude towards Jim Carrey. I thought it wasn't terrible).