Kevin Smith’s hilarious take on religion as two exiled (to Wisconsin) angels, Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck) find a loop hole in religious dogma that will allow them to return to Heaven. This is the final recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my screening of La Belle et La Bete for the Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Horror genre.
Smith, in typical, joyous fashion, skewers all aspects of religion as the film follows the angels, and a woman named Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), descended from a special heritage who works in an abortion clinic.
A variety of characters make an appearance; Jason Lee as the devilish Azrael, Jason Mewes and Smith as their iconic creations Jay and Silent Bob, Alan Rickman as Metatron the Voice of God, and George Carlin as Cardinal Glick.
As Loki and Bartleby make their way to New Jersey, dealing out what they see as God’s wrath before transubstantiating to mortal form, Bethany must make her own journey to stop them.
It’s funny, crude, smart occasionally very violent, and whether it wanted to or not, it brings up some very clever theological questions, and has fun while it does.
Salma Hayek, Chris Rock and Alanis Morissette round out a stellar cast and watching Affleck and Damon together is a lot of fun. Their friendship is there on the screen and they have such great chemistry together.
There are excrementals, muses, and angels. All of them make appearances while conducting discussions on faith and religion; making pointed remarks about both while not taking itself too seriously.
Smith’s sharp ear for dialogue is on display here, hiding under the crude language are some very witty lines, pop culture references, and some very good points about our concepts of god, beliefs and the world as a whole.
At this point in his career Smith still wasn’t doing much in the way of camera movement, but the story is so fun and engaging that the lack of camerawork doesn’t detract from it. It does keep the performances front and centre and as such it grounds the film in a reality that may not have existed with distracting camera moves. It feels like a small film, that is wicked smart, funny, and inspires thought.
That, and it lets Rickman show us just how brilliant, funny, and awesome he was.
Dogma ends up being a lot of fun, and if anyone was offended by its portrayal of religion, then all I can say is that you missed the point of the entire film. It’s not so much about belief as it is an idea, and that’s where good things can come from.
I love the fact that despite the opening disclaimer, the film makes a point of saying no religion is right, because none of them have gotten past the self-righteousness that each of them seem to promote, intentionally or not.
Smith has crafted a wonderful little piece here, that seems to have slipped through the cracks over the years, but I think is really due a revisit.
Have a look.