Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #444
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: November 12, 1999
Sub-Genre: Cult Film
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $30,600,000
Running Time: 130 minutes
Director: Kevin Smith
Producer: Scott Mosier
Screenplay: Kevin Smith
Special Effects: Vincent J. Guastini
Cinematography: Robert Yeoman
Score: Howard Shore
Editing: Scott Mosier, Kevin Smith
Studio: View Askew Productions
Distributors: Lionsgate Films (US), FilmFour (UK)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, George Carlin, Bud Cort, Alanis Morissette, Janeane Garofalo, Jeff Anderson, Brian O’Halloran, Dwight Ewell, Guinevere Turner, Bryan Johnson, Walter Flanagan, Barret Hackney, Jared Pfennigwerth, Kitao Sakurai, Ethan Suplee (voice)
Dedicated to the wonderful Alan Rickman (February 21, 1946-January 14, 2016)
Suggested Audio Candy
 Alanis Morissette “Still”
 July Garland “Over The Rainbow”
 Run DMC “Run’s House”
 Howard Shore “Dogma”
“When are you people going to learn? It’s not about who’s right or wrong. No denomination’s nailed it yet, because they’re all too self-righteous to realize that it doesn’t matter what you have faith in, just that you have faith. Your hearts are in the right place, but your brains gotta to wake up”
Say what you want about religion but it sells. When Mel Gibson released The Passion of the Christ in 2004, it caused no end of controversy. Amidst allegations of antisemitism, it went on to gross over $600m at the box office, and became the highest grossing foreign language film of all time. Sure, it ruffled some feathers, but it also peaked curiosity as everyone and their dog wanted to form their own opinions. In this respect, religion is the glue that bonds us all. It’s also down to individual interpretation which is the reason why there are so many opposing faiths and different belief-sets operational around the globe. Everyone likes to think that they know best but nobody truly has the answer. Thus, when a film emerges that tackles this thorny topic, the general public come out in their droves, to either offer it their blessing or condemn it to the hell-fires below.
I attended church right up until my fourteenth birthday and was baptized Christian the moment I turned thirteen. As I set out on my personal pilgrimage, the fear of God was struck into me sufficiently enough to ensure that I towed the line for fear of being smited. However, eventually I lost heart, and became more interested in testing out the equipment between my legs which was primed to anoint with its own holy water.
Atheism didn’t appeal as there were many things I learned during my tenure that appeared to ring true. Of the ten commandments ordained in Exodus, at least half of them seem to hold weight, and are applicable to our everyday lives. As the list wears on it hits its stride, but I was already mindful that murder, adultery, and theft would have grave repercussions before having them spelled out for me so I formed my own conclusions and chose quiet faith over weekly worship.
Everyone has their own theory and nobody can ever hope to ascertain the answers outside of the improbable divine intervention. Having said that, my parents raised me to be respectful of others and live a virtuous existence, so it would have been foolhardy of me to flat-out ignore these guidelines. Thus, I choose to look at the whole thing from a metaphorical standpoint and apply its logic to any given situation where necessary, whilst never needing to report back for acceptance. It works for me and ultimately I’m the one for whom judgement is pending. I still occasionally pass my local parish and hear the congregation rejoicing inside with great passion and verve. This pleases me infinitely and I would never belittle another’s belief. But Public Enemy surfaced around the same time that Praise To the Lord The Almighty was doing the rounds and bringing the noise sounded more gratifying than bowing my head.
Anyhoots, it is possible to have faith and still have a few burning questions you wish to pose. New Jersey’s finest, Kevin Smith, took full advantage of his freedom of speech when resurrecting Dogma. He actually wrote this playful parable before Clerks but was mindful that his story couldn’t be told effectively at that time, thus shelved it until which time as he had earned his stripes as a filmmaker. Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy combined to pocket him the $10m investment it would take to give his sermon to the very best of his abilities and, after numerous rewrites, the stars finally aligned and his riskiest endeavor to-date came to fruition.
Like myself, Smith has his own beliefs, and had no intention of making a mockery of religion, although this view wasn’t shared by certain fanatical Catholic groups that took him to task for blasphemy. If you take a long hard look at Dogma, you’ll see his faith in abundance. The bible never once stated that “thou shalt not be inquisitive” and, to learn is never to spurn, so he simply threw it out there for the masses like the proverbial sacrificial lamb, asking the very same questions that burn on many of our lips. It proved a stroke of genius on his part as the View Askewniverse he created expanded overnight and the movie pocketed his most divine return to-date. Sure, there were rallies and noses displaced as he prepared for that lengthy next communion, but many regard it now to be his most enigmatic feature. That’s worth a few Hail Marys if you ask me.
Dogma is many things. Primarily, it’s Smith’s very own The Wizard of Oz, although I’m not assured that Dorothy ever worked in an abortion clinic. Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) is disillusioned, divorced, infertile, and generally reaching the end of her tether when she receives pillar-of-fire visitation from our very own Glinda of the piece, Metatron (a wonderfully sardonic Alan Rickman). She is then informed of her status as the last living descendant of Jesus Christ and tasked with stopping a couple of insubordinate fallen angels from re-entering heaven. After reluctantly accepting her ruby-red slippers and setting off down that yellow brick road, she recruits her Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, handpicked by the almighty and presented through epiphany. These comprise thirteenth apostle Rufus (Chris Rock) and, of course, foretold prophets Jay and Silent Bob (Smith and heterosexual life-mate Jason Mewes). Meanwhile, Salma Hayek tags along as muse Serendipity; just to ensure there are no copyright infringements.
Then there are the bad guys. Cunning incubus Azrael (Jason Lee) is the closest we have to The Wicked Witch of the West which, I guess, leaves exiled seraphs Loki (Matt Damon), Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and the notorious Stygian Triplets as flying monkeys. I’m buggered if I know who the Toto of the piece is! Needless to say, our Dorothy must make it to Oz before those petulant gibbons take advantage of a loophole in modern Catholic testament which affords them absolution for their multiple trespasses just by ducking beneath the archway of the New Jersey parish. The Wizard of said Oz or God (Alanis Morissette) as she is better known, is the only one with all the answers and isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? There really is no place like home.
Before we can say The Cannonball Run, our pilgrims are under starter’s orders and it’s all about that race to the finish line. Having been tasked with preventing all hell literally brimming over, The Last Scion and her motley crew put any differences between them (whether or not Bethany owes Jay at least a hand job for rushing to her aid) and head towards the light. It’s quite the eclectic ensemble and perhaps the only time you’ll ever have the pleasure of witnessing Rickman and Mewes sharing screen time. The seasoned likes of Fiorentino, Rock, Hayek, and a gloriously crotchety Rickman, bring their A-games and each play their part with the required vigor. Meanwhile, our drug-addled slackers provide any downtime from any philosophical debate and do precisely what they do best, that being creating moderate peril and fending off the inevitable shit demons and sneak attacks.
“Do you know what makes a human being decent? Fear. And therein lies the problem. None of you has anything left to fear anymore. You rest comfortably in seats of inscrutable power, hiding behind your false idol, far from judgment, lives shrouded in secrecy even from one another. But not from God”
As for Affleck and Damon, well there’s a good reason that their screenplay for Good Will Hunting bagged them an Oscar, and it’s the same one that made Will and Chuckie’s apples so likeable. Their generously rationed monologues are most blessed here and chemistry nigh-on biblical. Some rather uncomfortable topics are flagged for discussion as they embark on their less than sacred road trip/rampage and the pair shift immaculately between pastoral and wrathful, as they look to exploit the clause in their contract. Bartleby and Loki are, by far, the most complex characters on exhibit and the fact that these virulent vessels expose the grey areas of Catholic faith with their buoyant banter affords Smith the most bankable opportunity to preach to the choir.
Smith is never culpable of coming across holier-than-thou but cannot be accused of desecrating holy grounds either. He simply sits on the fence and ponders the whole “what does it all mean?” debate while challenging certain inconsistencies within the chancel mandate, not to provoke, but instead to fill in his own blanks. In many ways his curiosity reflects what many Catholics are questioning anyway; it’s just that he’s the one holding the hockey stick. If that means enlisting the usual suspects, refusing to hold back on profanity, and defiling the screen with an ulcerated fecal overlord, then so be it. People tend to lose their heads when religion is thrown into the ring but Smith manages to keep his, even when the shit is in full flight around him.
Of course, it helps that Silent Bob’s androgynous soul mate, Jay, is on-hand to shoulder some of this massive burden, and he point-blank refuses to let the big guy down. With all these theological rounds being fired around his ears, it is appreciated that he pre-loads his lewd cannon with the customary dick and fart jokes, while his tubby husband echoes each sentiment via gloriously animated facial gymnastics. The pair of bumbling blockheads have come a long way from loitering with intent outside the Quick Stop rolling phatties and pestering schoolgirls, and Dogma represents their very first road trip, or pilgrimage to Mecca, if you prefer. I believe the correct term is “Snooch to the nooch biotch!”
Smith’s decision to cast Morissette as God says everything we oughta know about his intentions. This omnipresent overruling matriarch isn’t Morgan Freeman and neither is it Charlton Heston, but instead our deity is merely a dimpled pop star in flip-flops. Let’s not get it twisted, Ms Morissette can and will unleash the odd rage tornado, should anyone be foolish enough to stamp down her Gerberas, but otherwise she’s as docile as a bus tour of nirvana. The same can be said of the film on a whole. It matters not whether you consider yourself to be a devout follower or extreme atheist; only that you possess a sense of humor. There are few better comic parishioners than Smith in existence and, with Dogma, I would say he has more than justified his amen. And no I didn’t pilfer from the collection tray, I just had to break a twenty. Check my pockets if you insist but you may not like where they lead. See, I warned you, and that’s just the left one. Bong!
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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