Volume 93, Issue 44
Wednesday, November 17, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Dogma lightly bites at traditions
Photo by Darren Michaels
DO YOU LIKE APPLES? I'VE EATEN FROM THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE. HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES? Matt Damon and Ben Affleck team up again with Chris Rock, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Linda Fiorentino and others in Smith's controversial comedy, Dogma.
By Sara Martel
Outside of the token Star Wars and hockey references, there are a few things that people have come to expect from Kevin Smith movies.
Smith's main cinematic staple is witty, dense dialogue which propels an otherwise visually sparse script. Stories generally focus on the banal, such as shopping mall culture and the cast includes ordinary looking people lacking superstar status, lending to the overall independent feel of the film.
Those anticipating Dogma because it's Smith's new movie, rather than because it's "that movie where Alanis Morrisette plays God," will notice a few stylistic changes. First, Smith has chosen to neglect the banal in favour of the extraordinary. The result is a story about heaven, hell, world cosmos, God, faith and institutionalized religion a far cry from typical convenience store antics. The once obscure actors have been replaced by the likes of Chris Rock, Alan Rickman, Salma Hayek, Alanis Morrisette and the do-no-wrong comedic talents of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
These changes are no reason for Smith fans to panic. Dogma is not another case of independent integrity being compromised to the evils of a big budget ethic. Smith has not sold his soul in the name of commercialism he's created a unique movie which few filmmakers would be gutsy enough to follow through on, steeped it in his own personal style and bravely set it out for the masses to taste and savour, or spit out.
Smith takes the same tongue-in-cheek approach to faith and religion as director David Fincher claims he took to the violent denouncement of consumer culture with Fight Club. Where Fincher wasn't commanding viewers to make soap and fight each other, Smith isn't telling them how to live or what to believe he simply wants to inspire thought and hopefully, make people laugh. The latter definitely isn't a problem.
This humorously bizarre parable follows two angels, Bartelby (Affleck) and Loki (Damon), who have been expelled from heaven and sent to Wisconsin for eternity. When the Catholic church makes some policy changes through their "Catholicism Wow" campaign, designed to revamp the institution's image and herd in wondering crowds, these winged renegades find a loophole which could potentially get them back into heaven.
Because the world will come to an end if they successfully dupe the Almighty, the voice of God (Alan Rickman) summons the long removed niece of Jesus (Linda Fiorentino), who, accompanied by two pot-head prophets, begins a journey to save the world.
On paper, the Dogma concept sounds as kitsch as a plastic Jesus night light or a Mary Magdelene fridge magnet. It's hard to tackle subjects like faith with major Hollywood players and avoid accusations of triteness. However, Smith's movie dodges predictable critical stonings by not taking himself or his message too seriously. This is spelled out for viewers with the help of a facetious disclaimer which opens the film. Smith just wants to share his personal crisis of faith with others and fortunately, he has the humour and talent to do so while still maintaining a wit and humility large enough to include recurring characters Jay and Silent Bob as heroes.
Although it has been widely touted as one of this year's most controversial movies (a feat in itself considering the company it's in), Dogma doesn't explore any uncharted territory. Instead, it simply interrogates and demythologizes what has been a long-accepted dogmatic religious doctrine.
Once people get past the shock of someone expressing such views in a blatant manner, they will realize that Smith's new film is actually quite hopeful and well deserving of the attention it has received.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999