It’s a Friday night in eighth grade, and my friends and I are celebrating a friend birthday. It’s late, for us, around 3 in the morning. We’ve gone through about a pound of sugar, and have started in on movies. We pop in Kevin Smith’s Dogma (yes, not exactly the most appropriate movie for 12 year olds) and I’m transfixed. Kevin Smith’s movies, although not the box office smashes many companies make now, are no doubt cult classics. The Askewniverse films, as called by Smith himself, range from the first black and white Clerks to the recently released Clerks II. In the middle, and the most well known, is Dogma, a religious comedy. Dogma is a great movie, because of its unique plot, wonderful acting, and comedy. Although not conventional, and certainly controversial, it is a very entertaining movie.
The Askewniverse films include Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and Clerks II, released in that order. With the exception of Clerks and Clerks II, none of the movies are direct sequels, but instead feature common themes. Star Wars is referenced, as well as hockey, comics and Jaws. Pop culture is always ridiculed and discussed, for example the Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings debate in Clerks II. All the movies also feature the characters of Jay and Silent Bob, the lovable heterosexual life-partner dealers. The arc chronicles their misadventures throughout New Jersey, another constant of the movies.
The movies will also feature many of the same actors. Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, and Brian O’Halloran. In Dogma, regulars Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, and Jason Mewes are in starring roles, along with Alan Rickman, Salma Hayek, Chris Rock, and Linda Fiorentino. All of the starring actors give stunning performances. Damon and Affleck’s chemistry together helps to develop the characters of Bartleby (Affleck) and Loki (Damon). Jason Lee, as the vindictive demon Azreal, lends comedy to the villain’s role. Jason Mewes, as the infamous Jay, is always perfect, especially when combined with Kevin Smith as counterpart Silent Bob. Fiorentino, as Bethany, gives a believable performances, despite Smith being quoted to say she was difficult to work with. Supporting roles are filled about by Rickman as the Metatron, the overworked voice of God, Hayek as a muse, and Rock as a bitter apostle. Other famous names make appearances as well. George Carlin is a Catholic priest who introduces the Buddy Christ, and Alanis Morissette is God Herself. The quality of the actors, in all roles of the movie, help to make it great. However wonderful a script may be, it will be horrible without good actors to bring the characters to life.
The plot of the movie is one that hasn’t been tackled too many times. Having been kicked out of heaven, angels Bartleby and Loki are told of a loophole in Catholic dogma that would allow them to reenter heaven. However, what they don’t realize is that to do so would prove God wrong, and since God is infallible, to prove Her (pronoun from movie) wrong would unmake existence. Therefore, Bethany is tapped to stop them. She’s helped by the Metatron, Jay and Silent Bob, the 13th apostle Rufus, and Serendipity, a muse. Of course, everything is worked out in the end, and we can hope that Bartleby and Loki were let back into heaven, or at least some where nicer than Wisconsin- even worse then Hell.
Most of the plot comes from the characters. Bartleby and Loki at one point decide to kill the executive directors of the Mooby corporation, a children’s idol. Loki’s job had been that of the Angel of Death, and so he figures the best way to get back on God’s good side is to kill sinners. This also leads to the line “Your hard-on for smiting has prevented us from negotiating what should be the relatively simple matter of catching or staying on a bus,” spoken by Bartleby after Loki kills a man-caught in adultery- on a bus. These are far from simple characters. Bartleby had originally convinced Loki to quit, but by the end of the movie, Bartleby has killed countless people, without a thought or reason. Loki, as much as he wants to go home, begins to wonder if they’re doing the right thing.
Rufus, the 13th apostle, was left out of the Bible because he was black. This motivates him to help Bethany, hoping that if he saves existence he’ll be acknowledged. A comment from Rufus leads to gang to a strip club, where Serendipity has been working. After being attacked by the Golgothan shit demon, she also pitches in.
Of course, the character Azreal drives most of the plot. Once an angel, he was banished to Hell when he wouldn’t fight for God. Ever since, he’s been plotting his revenge. He’s found his solution, in the Catholic Church. A loophole would let Bartleby and Loki back into Heaven, which would destroy existence. As Serendipity says, “Leave it to the Catholics to destroy existence.” Azreal is wily enough to keep God incapacitated for much of the movie, and dupe Bartleby and Loki to do his dirty work. Azreal has been doing his evil genius homework, and learned from all those James Bond movies not to reveal all his plot, no matter how close to the end he might be.
Frequent references to pop culture helped to establish a fan base for Dogma. Lines such as “Wax on, wax off,” and references to everything from Star Wars to Through the Looking Glass to Elvis give an audience something familiar to grasp. Even though the movie in parts is fantastical, when a John Hughes film is mentioned, it makes the entire movie more believable. If something’s not believable, it’s not a good movie.
Partially because of pop culture references, Dogma is ridiculously funny. The characters are hilarious, especially in their interactions. The foul mouthed Jay and Silent Bob may take the cake as the most amusing characters, but others, especially Rufus and the overworked Metatron also get laughs. This exchange “Metatron: You know those constitutionals He likes to take? Bethany Sloane: Constitutionals? Rufus: I think we're beyond euphemisms at this point: God's a Skee-Ball fanatic,” shows two different approaches. The Metatron, very upright and doing his job well, versus Rufus, telling it like it is. These basic traits, which everyone possesses, allow for comedy, on their own and in oppositions to each other. It also helps to have George Carlin, one of the funniest men alive, playing the corrupt Cardinal Glick, who retires the “depressing” image of Christ on the cross in favor of the new Buddy Christ. The name itself is hilarious, and when coupled with the statue, is one of the trademarks of the film.
Most of the opposition to this film comes from Catholics, which is hardly surprising. While the movie was in theatres, the official website had a section devoted to hate mail. Most of it was concerned with the portrayal of Catholicism as a greedy, corrupt institution. One religions scholar, when interviewed about the film, saw a more conservative message, especially in the end scene when God cleans everything up. She believe the movie was advocating more of a peaceful religion. There are also many references in the movie that no religion is perfect. Both Serendipity and Rufus express that view.
Even though I’ve finally accomplished my goal of seeing all the Askewniverse movies, Dogma is still my favorite. Despite is controversial subject, it is still one of the best movies. The star studded cast puts out an amazing performance, especially important to a character driven script. The plot takes you to unexpected places and events, all driven by these wonderful characters. They’re funny, and make you think. Even now, almost six years after my initial viewing, I brought Dogma with me to college, and it’s still wonderful.