Release Date: November 12, 1999
Starring: Ben Affleck, George Carlin,
Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino,
Janeane Garofalo, Salma Hayek,
Jason Mewes, Jason Lee, Alan
Rickman, Chris Rock, & Kevin
Genre: Comic Fantasy
Runtime: 125 minutes
Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Director: Kevin Smith
Producer: Scott Mosier
Writer: Kevin Smith
Address Comments To:
Offbeat, strange, sometimes obscene, sometimes profane, DOGMA is not like a Martin Scorcese movie that revels in nihilism, but is instead a cinematic working out of one's own faith. Smith is a man who reportedly still believes, but doesn't like some Catholic Church practices, some Catholic Church theology and the apparent absence of God in relation to mankind.
To shield itself from would-be critics from the get-go, the movie begins with a disclaimer which states, "To insist that any of what follows is incendiary or inflammatory is to miss our intention and pass undue judgement; and passing judgement is reserved for God and God alone. Before you think about hurting someone over this trifle of a film, remember even God has a sense of humor. Just look at the Platypus." Well, God may be the final judge of man, but the Bible never tells us not to judge sin; rather, after getting our relationship with God right by accepting Jesus Christ's atonement for our sins, God calls those who are born anew to "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24) Therefore, people still can and should judge any and every movie. Moreover, God does have a sense of humor, but not at the expense of His own character. This is a major flaw in this movie and will be discussed later.
The actual story begins with three fallen angels, made up to look like a heavy-metal group of slacker youth. They assault an elderly man on the New Jersey shore. Meanwhile, Cardinal Glick (George Carlin) announces to the press that the image of the dying Christ on the cross will be replaced by a "buddy" Christ figure who gives a thumbs up sign and a wink. The cardinal also states that confession will no longer be required, but that merely passing under a special gate will absolve people from all their sins.
A duo of fallen angels or demons, named Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck), who used to administer God's justice during Old Testament times, have been banished to eternity in Wisconsin. The two find out about the gate and decide to make a pilgrimage there to have their sins absolved so they can return Heaven. The movie proposes, however, that, if these two actually cross under that gate, then God's sovereignty will be challenged, and all Creation will be obliterated. Hence, someone must stop these demons before they destroy the Universe.
That someone is Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), a lapsed Catholic who now works at an abortion clinic. Bethany is visited at night by an angel named Metatron (Alan Rickman), who tells her that she must stop this nefarious duo. He also tells her that she will be guided and joined by two apostles. These apostles are the foul-mouthed Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). They come to Bethany's rescue when the original trio of fallen angel punks attacks her. The audience discovers that this group of thugs is under assignment by a sixth fallen angel who escaped Hell, Azrael (Jason Lee). Azrael wants Loki and Bartleby to succeed because he would rather be obliterated than go back to Hell.
Finally, Bethany, Jay and Silent Bob are joined by Rufus (Chris Rock), who falls out of the sky and claims to be the 13th Disciple of Christ, and by Serendipity (Selma Hayek), an angelic muse. This whole motley crew goes to New Jersey, faces off with Loki and Bartleby and gets a little help from a female god to bring the whole crazy situation to a lackluster conclusion.
Merely describing this plot reveals its troublesome points.
While some of the theologically irrelevant practices parts of the Catholic Church and many Protestant churches, may need revamping, the "buddy" Christ mocks the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the cross to atone for the sins of each and every person who seeks salvation from Him. If there were any other way to be forgiven, then Jesus Christ would not have had to suffer and die a horrible death on the Cross, and then be resurrected! DOGMA's whole story hinges on fallen angels or demons being able to be redeemed by a sort of religious parlor trick. In reality, demons cannot be redeemed, and the only gate of absolution and forgiveness of sins is the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, while Christ probably had many followers who weren't mentioned in the Scriptures, a supposed 13th Disciple would probably not be excluded simply because he is black (as Rock is), or because of political disagreements. Furthermore, neither God nor His angels would send a deceased person back to earth to do good deeds. Not only that, but the Bible makes no mention of muses for inspiration. This is a Greek literary convention.
The main theological problem with Smith's DOGMA, however, is that Smith says through Serendipity that the male authors of the Bible changed the pronouns for God from feminine to masculine. There is no textual or archeological evidence for such a ridiculous politically correct claim. If Smith took the time to really study the actual concept of the Holy Trinity, he would know such a claim is quite stupid. Regrettably, Smith does not stop there. Not only does he depict God as a female, but the female depiction he picks is a doe-eyed, dreamy wimp, played by New Age musician Alanis Morissette. Smith's movie proposes that the reason that it often seems that his god is not actively working on earth to stop evil and help people is because God is actually out playing skeeball. Clearly, Smith does not fully understand the Bible's concept of God, the ideas of free will, sovereignty and predestination, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or the responsibility of Christians to help God's Church to restrain evil and promote goodness and justice.
Is there anything theologically sound or good at all to this movie?
Actually, yes, and quite a bit, though the spiritually immature or biblically ignorant may not be able to tell the wheat from the chaff. DOGMA recognizes God as the Creator and Jesus as God's son, Lord and Savior of the world. It also depicts angels and demons and a few heavenly battles between them. In fact, these scenes could be considered as precedents for more theologically correct cinematic battles if THIS PRESENT DARKNESS ever gets produced. The movie states that all of our exploits are recorded in Heaven. The movie also states that God sent Jesus to help mankind. Finally, there seems to be a healthy respect for God as ruler and also a healthy respect for the terror of Hell. In one scene, Azrael actually laments, "No one fears anything anymore." This is an accurate statement about the degraded nature of today's nihilistic society.
DOGMA also gives a theological object lesson by stating that God's righteous judgment will fall on the wicked. Loki, who was once an agent of God's wrath, goes around, names people's sins and then shoots them. In a perverse sermon, Loki demonstrates that death is the proper judgment for those who have sinned.
Finally, though not really relevant to theology per se, Bethany, Loki and Bartleby have some very astute and thought-provoking questions about faith and their relationship with God. The movie shows these sentient characters wrestling with matters of faith. They desire to be connected with God and are upset that they lack such connection. They are also willing to make an effort to talk through their concerns and desires.
As a work of art, this movie begins and plays out with quick dialogue and game performances by the actors all around. However, at the end of the story, it bogs down and eventually becomes too long. Photography and special affects are only serviceable to the Kevin Smith script, which seems to be the star of this picture. Even so, his plot and plot devices remain weak and only function to be a wire-thin hanger on which to place his religious criticisms and theological discussions.
Some church politics and modern worship practices are fallible and perhaps in need of humorous examination. The infinitely creative and infallible Christ, however, will not be mocked. If Smith is able to inspire people to seek Jesus Christ and know the One True God through this irreverent examination of faith, then this flawed comedy should be commended. If, however, he inspires people to mock Jesus Christ and think of God as fallible and prone to fickleness like humans are, then he performs a great harm and disservice to the world that should be condemned.