Director Kevin Smith has certainly been no stranger to controversy. It’s just that up until Dogma, Smith’s tweaking of the Catholic faith and the celestial concerns of heaven, his irreverence was focused on more earthly matters. His debut film, Clerks, embraced with profane glee the lives of retail employees. Mall Rats did the same for shopping mall dwellers, and Chasing Amy examined the unrequited love between a straight man and a lesbian.
Dogma has Kevin Smith, with his scatological and subversive sense of humor, telling the story of two angels, played by Ben Affleck (Shakespeare in Love) and Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting), who get stuck on Earth for an eternity for defying God. Since Wisconsin is no place for angels to dwell, they hatch a plot to return to heaven. By entering through the portals of a newly re-dedicated church, they can be re-sanctified and, once again, eligible for paradise. But, since they are basically conning God, they end up threatening human existence itself.
Just like that other practicing Catholic, Martin Scorsese, whose The Last Temptation of Christ received a similar fanfare of hostility from true believers, Kevin Smith is trying to ask pertinent questions about his own faith.
“[This movie] doesn’t attempt to hold out answers to any of those questions,” Smith explains. “It’s meant to make you laugh.” This means, of course, that Smith doesn’t see much difference between this film and any of his others. “How seriously can you take a movie that has a rubber poop monster in it?”
But it wasn’t the dung creature that was the source of all the outrage. Most of it focused on matters like having Bethany (Linda Fiorentino of The Last Seduction), the one human
character who can save the world, be a descendant of Christ who just happens to work in an abortion clinic. Or raucous comic Chris Rock playing Rufus, the 13th Apostle who was cut out of the Bible because he was black. Not to mention, the eternal muse of creativity, Serendipity (Salma Hayek) who works as a stripper; or God herself, played by – of all people – singer Alanis Morissette in her screen debut.
Since we are talking satire here, often humor can help us get at bigger truths. Dogma is simply a film about faith where sacred cows suddenly grow mustaches. Jason Lee, a veteran of Smith films who plays a muse trying to escape from Hell, puts Dogma in perspective. “It’s not like Primal Fear with a priest videotaping boys and girls having sex. This has [comedian] George Carlin playing a Catholic cardinal.” And with a tongue firmly planted in his cheek, he adds, “Come on, that’s very funny.”