For once the Christian right and I agree on something: Dogma has got to be one of the most idiotic movies around. Our respective reasons for disliking the film, of course, are entirely different. I am no religionist, for sure, and I don't care at all about "blaspheming" any god person. In fact, I was not at all offended that Dogma insulted Christianity or God. I was vexed that it insulted the intelligence.
I had great hopes when I first heard about the supposedly blasphemous movie written and directed by the young "protégé" Kevin Smith, whose earlier movies include Clerks, Mall Rats and Chasing Amy, none of which have I seen. Nor do I plan to, after watching this dog.
The movie starts out well enough, with Matt Damon's character, the "fallen angel" named after the mischiefmaker in Norse mythology, Loki, presenting an expert dissection of organized religion to a nun in an airport. So convincing, in fact, is Loki's argument that the nun decides to quit her vocation. Being a fervent freethinker, I cheered this dissertation, but then whispered to my companion, "It all goes downhill from here." I was more than correct.
I possessed that apt intuition based on interviews I had seen of Kevin Smith, one on Politically Inorrect, where he pandered to the cunning but kooky Protestant exorcist Bob Larson. Because of the attacks on him from Christian organizations, Smith has made it clear on several occasions that he is a "Catholic" and was merely exploring his "faith" in this film. On "Charlie Rose," Smith declared that the main Catholic organization attacking him had not even viewed the movie but was simply interested in going after Disney via Miramax, the original distributor of this View Askew film. Once again Smith declared his ongoing faith and reiterated that Dogma was a "comedy."
Would that it were. Oh, there were a couple of laughs, but I grew increasingly agitated as this imbecilic attempt at theology progressed, so much so that I wanted to leave. After Damon's well-developed commencement speech, Ben Affleck's character, Bartleby, wonders how Loki could state there was no god, since he himself had been in "His" presence. So much for an honest exploration of faith.
Of course, the unscientific a priori assumption of the existence of a giant man in the sky is central not only to religion but also to the plot, so there was no other way to go. While the movie is depicted as a comedy, its pretentious bid at entering a profound theological degenerates into little more than the blathering of 20-something underachievers at a frat party.
It is not that I object to foul language or obscenity. Au contraire. I like swearing and a good fart joke as much as the next gal. But while Dogma comes nowhere near South Park in its abundant use of the versatile word "fuck," it also doesn't approach South Park in any other regard. The Parker-Stone classic, in fact, is brilliant and witty in its irreverence, while Dogma is childish and foolish. And for much funnier scatological humor, you can't beat the Austin Powers movies.
Nor do I object to the theme, even though it is supposedly religious and theological. Another film dealing with the end of creation, 1993's Warlock, starring Julian Sands and Lori Singer, was at least entertaining and had some historical basis. And for excellent religious satire, no one can top Monty Python's deliciously clever movies, especially Life of Brian and Meaning of Life.
In contrast, Dogma falls very short in its pretense at erudition on the subject of eschatology and Christian ideology, such as the notion that Christ was "black" or that he had a (13th) black disciple, played by Chris Rock, who has a couple of the more insightful lines but mostly babbles the same frat ratpack gibberish. Dogma also brings in the "bloodline of the holy grail" concept, although in this case the "Sion," as in the "Priory of Sion," is a descendant of one of Christ's siblings, rather than Christ himself.
The idea of Christ having siblings or children is not new, as even NBC's recent pabulum for the masses, Mary, Mother of Jesus, incorporated the notion that "James," the "brother of the Lord," was a true relative, i.e., son of Mary. Naturally, for those who have studied comparative religion and mythology, none of these characters finds a place in history, so the footing of any such notions is highly insecure.
The very few high points of the movie include Damon's opening oration, as well as a diatribe concerning the sexism in the Bible by Salma Hayek's character, Felicity, a muse or angel. One of the more interesting twists, in fact, is when "God," released from a coma brought on by a beating after a night of "his" favorite activity of skeeball, reappears as Canadian songbird Alanis Morissette. This "revelation" occurs after the main female character, Bethany the Sion, played by Linda Fiorentino, picks up on Felicity's comments about "God" as a "She," and then repeatedly refers to "Her."
When "God" does appear in this silly film, "She" creates more questions than answers. In the nick of time to prevent the destruction of all of creation, She blows up Bartleby's head after he and Loki have gone on a vicious killing spree outside of a church run by a cardinal played by religious satirist George Carlin. After killing Bartleby by opening Her mouth and "speaking," Morissette as "God" next does a Jeanie blink and fixes the entire ghastly scene of carnage, leaving one to wonder why She did not simply prevent the stupid "drama" in the first place. Of course, Smith provides a facile answer or two for that theological dilemma, including the absurd skeeball story, i.e., that the omnipotent and omniscient god had incarnated as an old homeless man and was beaten senseless by three ghoulish hockey-playing henchmen of the demon Azrael, played by another of Smith's friends. Another ridiculous "answer" is that "God" somehow wanted to entrust this all-important task - which "His Omniscience" should have seen coming long before any of the players had any clue - to a bunch of immature goofballs with few redeeming qualities.
While he is never identified in the credits, the character "Silent Bob" is played by Kevin Smith, who has only three lines throughout the movie. Most of his time is spent mugging and aping for the camera. While this juvenile behavior may seem funny at first, it quickly becomes indicative of the overall shallowness of the film.
Upon leaving the theater, I wondered with great annoyance how can scripts like this could get financed, while far better concepts don't even make it through the studio doors. There are thousands of "starving artists" in the world who not only write better but who also have much deeper thoughts that could actually benefit mankind.
In the end, it's too bad the sharp-witted adult, George Carlin, didn't grab control of this adolescent and unfunny movie.
Acharya S is an archaeologist, historian, mythologist, linguist and religious conspiriologist. She is a member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece, and the associate director of the Institute for Historical Accuracy, as well as the director of the Center for the Research and Study of Theology. She is also the author of several books, including the recently published The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, which demonstrates that "Jesus Christ" is a mythological character. She has appeared on many radio programs, and articles by her have been printed in Exposure, Paranoia and Abyss, as well as on websites such as Steamshovel Press, the Konformist and her own at www.truthbeknown.com
Previous Offline Illumination