With blu-rays of Kevin Smith’s controversial movie checking in on Amazon at over $100 a whack, it’s worth asking; is there something going on with his all-star controversy-fest Dogma? A surprise hit back in 1999, it’s something of an off-beat farrago that indulges Smith’s usual scatological humour, but also makes some interesting pot-shots at organised religion, and specifically the Catholic belief system. While a bumpy ride, deliberately so, Dogma is also a rare satirical blockbuster, and even in 2022, there’s a lot to unpack here if you can find a copy that doesn’t cost the earth.
Back together after Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon play two angels, Bartleby and Loki, who come to earth to take advantage of a loophole in their church’s dogma; they’re headed from Wisconsin to New Jersey to do this, and share their journey with a motley crew including a muse called Serendipity (Salma Hayek), an abortion counsellor called Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), and Alan Rickman as acid-tongued angel Metatron.
As a Kevin Smith movie, the director has to appear with Jason Mewes in their regular Jay and Silent Bob roles, and there are also appearances for Chris Rock, George Carlin, Bud Cort and a wordless, assuredly ironic part for singer Alanis Morrisette. At over two hours long, and featuring a monster made of human excrement, the road-movie promised never quite takes a conventional shape, but with this cast, and Smith testing the limits at every turn, it’s not boring either.
Smith’s film is less of an attack as a complaint, and the constant bickering about the nature of faith does feel reasonably heartfelt, if somewhat short of CS Lewis. For all the wilfully obscene content of his film, Smith seems like a fallen angel rather than a devil; his caustic view of theology as a flawed system doesn’t feel invented for shock value. For some, the first step in believing in God is to complain about religion, and Smith’s film feels born out of personal experience.