Clerks | Mallrats | Chasing Amy | Dogma | Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back | Clerks II | Jay and Silent Bob Reboot
Dogma (1999) is a comedy film made by Kevin Smith that attracted a degree of controversy when it was released. The fourth film in his View Askewniverse series of films featuring Jay and Silent Bob, it is in many ways his most ambitious. The plot is simply a road movie with the main cast undergoing a heavenly quest as they travel from Wisconsin to New Jersey. The film deals with questions of religion and was written to be a 'modern psalm' celebration of faith and belief, but was not always seen as such. At 123 minutes long, it is the longest film in the View Askewniverse series to date.
As part of a Catholic recruitment drive that coincides with his church in New Jersey's centennial celebration, Cardinal Glick announces that the Pope has authorised him to say that anyone who visits his cathedral on the day that it is rededicated will have all their sins forgiven. Bartleby and Loki, two fallen angels living in Wisconsin, decide to take advantage of this. They believe that if they cut off their wings to become human and pass through the cathedral's door on that day and then die, with all their sins forgiven they will be allowed back into heaven as though they had led blameless lives. They do not realise that if they have their sins forgiven and re-enter Heaven against God's will, it will overrule the word of God and prove that God is not omnipotent and therefore all creation will be destroyed. They are being manipulated by demon Azrael who would rather cease to exist and take all of creation with him than continue to dwell in Hell.
Bethany, who works in an abortion clinic and unbeknown to her is the Last Scion, the sole remaining direct descendent of Jesus' mother Mary, is tasked with going to New Jersey and preventing the angels from entering the church. She is told she will be aided in her quest by two 'prophets', but these turn out to be Jay and Silent Bob, as well as Serendipity the Muse of Inspiration and Rufus the thirteenth apostle who was written out of the Bible because he was black.
Meanwhile Bartleby and Loki decide that, if their sins are all going to be forgiven anyway, they may as well go on a bit of a killing spree on the way. Bartleby particularly seeks revenge, angry that humanity was given free will whereas angels were expected to live an eternity of service.
Can Bethany stop angels from entering a church when she has lost her own faith? Can Silent Bob defeat demons? Is Wisconsin really worse than Hell? Will God reveal that the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything really is 42?
Actors and characters in Bold appear in other films in the View Askewniverse.
|Bartleby, fallen angel||Ben Affleck|
|Loki, fallen angel||Matt Damon|
|Bethany Sloane, Last Scion||Linda Fiorentino|
|Serendipity, a Muse||Salma Hayek|
|Azrael, Demon punished for being neutral during Lucifer's rebellion||Jason Lee|
|Metatron, Voice of God||Alan Rickman|
|Rufus, the Thirteenth Apostle||Chris Rock|
|Jay, drug dealer||Jason Mewes|
|Silent Bob, John Hughes fan||Kevin Smith|
|Cardinal Ignatius Glick||George Carlin|
|God, omnipotent and omnipresent skee-ball fanatic||Alanis Morissette|
|Grant Hicks, New Jersey local news reporter||Brian O'Halloran|
|Stygian Triplets, servants of Azrael||Barret Hackney, Jared Pfennigwerth & Kitao Sakurai|
|Kane, gang leader||Dwight Ewell|
|Gun Salesman||Jeff Anderson|
|John Doe Jersey, skee-ball fan in a coma||Bud Cort|
|Smooching Seaman committing adultery||Scott Mosier|
|Bus Station Attendant||Guinevere Turner|
Smith had been unable to cast his preferred choices for the film, intending Joey Lauren Adams to play Bethany. As Linda Fiorentino had starred in the highly successful big budget blockbuster Men In Black (1997), however, she was the studio's favoured choice1. Naturally Emma Thompson was considered to be God, but she was unavailable due to pregnancy and wished to concentrate on her family.
Dogmatic: Making Dogma
Kevin Smith, who grew up attending a Catholic school, wrote the first draft of this film during a crisis of faith even before he had written Clerks, although for many years it was outside his budget as well as his comfort zone. Following the success of his third film, Chasing Amy, he felt mature enough to tackle the subject. After Miramax funded the film Miramax's parent company, Disney, were unwilling to be involved in the potentially controversial film and chose not to release it. Instead the then head of Miramax Harvey Weinstein bought the film distribution rights himself. Britain's FilmFour distributed the film in Europe and in the US this was the first film widely distributed by Lionsgate. Smith overcame his crisis of faith and has credited God in the with thanks to section of the end credits in all his View Askewniverse films.
It's a Dog-Eat-Dogma World
This film met with considerable criticism from the US Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights who accused the film of being blasphemous without having seen it, stating that flaky Catholics might stop believing in God if they saw this film2. This group, which does not have official Catholic Church sanction, may have been using the film as a media crusade to generate publicity. Smith even received 30,000 pieces of hate mail including death threats from claimants asserting that the film questions Christianity, when in fact it does not. Smith wrote Dogma to be a celebration of his faith and be, in his words, a 'modern psalm'. It is certainly irreverent and definitely a tad rude, but never blasphemous.
Smith's film promotes an ecumenical approach to Christianity, arguing that organised religion often blocks faith by getting bogged down in earthly politics. The plot does hinge on two Catholic beliefs; firstly, that of Indulgence in which the forgiveness of sins can be authorised by the church on Earth. Secondly that of Papal Infallibility, which is the belief that the Pope is directly inspired by God when making statements 'ex cathedra' (with the full authority of office) so anything he says must be true. In this film's context it is interpreted to mean that though God is omnipotent He must do what the Pope says3. Other Christian denominations, both Orthodox and Protestant, do not believe in this dogma and that God would not in any way, shape or form be restricted to uphold any individual's expectations irrespective of whether they have an authoritative position within any religious organisation or speak only through the office of the head of such an organisation.
In 2007 Smith made Red State, a horror film about a group of extreme right wing Christian fundamentalists who effectively become a terrorist group. He has said he was inspired by his friend Malcolm Ingram's documentary Small Town Gay Bar (2006) which featured an interview with members of a church that regularly pickets funerals of members of the local gay community, where they shout that all homosexuals are going to hell. It is not inconceivable that some of the reaction to Dogma was in his mind when making Red State.
The film passes the Bechdel Test; Bethany and Serendipity discuss faith. Dogma did attract some criticism for both having a female God, and also for the fact that God never speaks for herself in this film. Being divine She cannot talk without destroying any mortals who hear her voice as humans are psychologically and physically incapable of hearing God's actual voice and living, which is why the Metatron speaks on her behalf.
The film does have a weak, ambiguous ending. Following scenes of death, destruction and carnage, at the end God uses her powers to make the butchery vanish. Whether the traces of the massacre have gone, or whether events have changed so that they never took place is never revealed. Similarly it is revealed that Bethany is pregnant, although the film contains no indication of who the father might be. An immaculate conception may well have led into a rumoured Dogma II, however as the film rights had been bought by Harvey Weinstein, Smith does not own the rights to characters introduced in Dogma. At present Dogma is unavailable to purchase as all distribution rights have lapsed and, preoccupied with other matters, Harvey Weinstein is unlikely to licence new distributors in the near future4.
Overall this is another strong entry in the View Askewniverse, although one that is quite different to the others. It is the first film in the series to be a road movie, a format that would be repeated in later films, although the heaven and hell theme would not. Dogma does introduce the recurring Mooby Corporation to the View Askewniverse. The Mooby Corporation logo is a golden calf, referring to the Biblical graven image, and the company is seen as a cross between Disney, Barney the Dinosaur and McDonalds, combining fast food restaurants with children's entertainment and theme parks. As with Smith's other films there are numerous in-jokes and things to look out for, for example a bus company is named 'Derris' after the character of Rick Derris who appears in Clerks. Silent Bob is seen reading USA Today, the newspaper Smith's wife was writing an article about him for when he met her.
Cardinal Glick is a particularly memorable character, despite his limited screen time but making a huge impact as the creator of the Buddy Christ and leader of the Catholicism Wow! Campaigns. Jay and Silent Bob are the unlikeliest couple to be described as 'prophets', but somehow it works. They had travelled across the country to live in a fictional town created by writer/director John Hughes for some of his films, only to be disappointed that the town does not actually exist. After rescuing Bethany from the Stygian triplets they said they had wanted to earn a profit. Fans of Silent Bob and Jay expressed disappointment that they did not encounter an orangutan during this film, as the joke ending of Mallrats had implied.
Silent Bob says three whole words in the film: 'No Ticket' – quoting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) after throwing angels off the train in a similar way to Indiana Jones throwing Nazis off an airship in the earlier film. He later says 'Thanks' – after Rufus says he will put in a good word with Jesus if he cleans up his language. As with all films in the series there is a reference to Star Wars: Jay compares Bethany asking him and Silent Bob to accompany her to New Jersey to Luke and Obi-Wan meeting Chewbacca and Han Solo at the Mos Eisley cantina, where they are hired to take them to Alderaan. A Jaws homage featuring Jay wearing the cardinal's hat was filmed, but deleted from the finished film.