a brief review of dogma by kevin smith
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Arts Entertainment

"Dogma" and dogmatic law

A look at Kevin Smith's fourth film in the View Askew series

"Dogma" and dogmatic law

"Dogma" is the fourth and most inspired, most ambitious film within the View Askew series. Where predecessor "Chasing Amy" arguably still hails as Smith's best work, "Dogma" is a close second and shows a great maturity within his writing, though it is hidden under a myriad of humor.

The series begins with "Clerks," which is a comedy with some dramatic tones, followed by "Mallrats," which is an attempt at comedy with attempts at dramatic tones, leading to the magnum opus "Chasing Amy," which is a drama with some comedic tones. While "Dogma" certainly has the capability to be a drama, Smith returns to a more comedic approach, walking back and forth between the line that divides humor from tragedy.

"Dogma" follows two fallen angels, Loki and Bartleby (Matt Damen and Ben Affleck respectively), who discover a means of returning back into Heaven, by passing through the doors of a church in Red Bank, New Jersey. The belief; should one pass through the doors, they are absolved of their sins and start anew. Loki questions this due to the fact that church laws are man-made and not divine, whereas Bartleby refutes stating that Christ told the first Pope Peter that how it is on earth so shall it be in heaven. Thus if they cut off their wings and become human, they can walk through the doors and be forgiven, because based on Christ's pact church law becomes divine.

The issue, however, is since these angels were cast out during the war in Heaven, they are not permitted to return home. However, by becoming human and being forgiven, they would prove God fallible, negating existence.

In order to stop them, the Metatron, a Seraphim (the highest choir of angels) who speaks on God's behalf because "human beings have neither the aural nor the psychological capacity to withstand the awesome power of God's true voice" (Smith) comes to enlist in the help of the Last Scion Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) and two prophets, Jay and Silent Bob.

Without giving away too much, that is the essential premise. It is easy to see the dramatic elements within the story, however, in one breath the film is great as it stands. It dives into serious topics about religion and looks at them in a new light, but never gets too heavy in discussion and never shies away from a laugh. However, with the few scenes where humor is gone, and the emotional state of a character becomes the sole entity, it makes it hard not to wish that this movie was more akin to the structure of "Chasing Amy" mainly focusing on the drama.

Two great scenes that showcase this are as follows: Bethany, the Last Scion, calling out to God and the other showing Bartleby's descent into madness.

As evident in Alan Rickman's comfort for Bethany, this film carries a lot of heart. It is hard not to feel sympathy as he consoles her and admits of his conversation with Christ as a child. When "Dogma" was released, it got heat for being offensive with it's handling of religion. I think it is with this scene, however, that makes it clear Smith is not trying to offend. Being a Catholic himself, Smith has a strong understanding of religion, and he uses it to tell his story.

The Metatron, Alan Rickman's character, for example, does not appear anywhere within the Hebrew Bible. However, it is a widely accepted belief among Judaism and Christianity, appearing in other important religious texts that are considered canon yet are absent from the Bible. He takes lesser known concepts and allows them to help in showing a different take on religious concepts, rather than trying to denounce or insult.

The next scene is Bartleby's breakdown, which is Affleck's chance to shine. This might be one of his best performances; he's subtle and dances from light-hearted angel seeking forgiveness to jealous, angry, war-ragging Gregoriate (his angle title) with ease.

I think this is possibly one of Smith's most underrated films. It's strong in a lot of areas, mainly in its dramatic scenes and its understanding of religious concepts. Its weak areas are in some of the humor, but that can be expected with any comedy. The only two negatives this movie really has going for it, are Jason Lee as Azrael and the Shit demon scene. The latter is a joke that fails, but the problem with Lee's performance is that it's lacking. I don't think that it is his fault either.

Lee carries "Mallrats," in fact he's possibly the only really strong element of the second film in this series. In "Chasing Amy" though his part is smaller than the previous film, he has more depth and while being hilarious, has more room to show his dramatic chops. The part about Azrael, is quite frankly, too small. It doesn't offer enough for Lee, giving him little impact on the film. Despite his character having a crucial role, he comes across as more annoying than funny, and after his performance in Smith's previous two films, it's disappointing.

Perhaps it is just that everyone else is so good, the few scenes Lee does have just don't compare. As stated, this is one of Affleck's best roles; he's nuanced and subtle is many of his facial cues. He carries all of his emotions in his stare and the scene when he meets Bethany, his character completely changes, and it's all seen with how he moves his eyes.

Damon is great, Rickman is great and as always Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith respectively) prove they are one of cinema's best duos. At least, in my opinion, they are.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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