When I was eight, a movie about angels came out: Dogma. I did not see in the cinema. Nor did I see it for the next sixteen years. It took until one of the movie’s actors had passed away for me to finally see it (though it’s been waiting in my recently purchased DVD pile since November.) I’ll be focusing mainly on two areas of the movie: the “stoners”, and the theology. Before I get into any of that, though: if you’re yet to watch this one, or if you haven’t seen it in a long time, pay attention to the beginning. I don’t think a text-based beginning to a movie has ever been more enjoyable than in Dogma.
Let it be said that I draw a strange amount of joy from stoner films. Something about the unexpected wisdom of stoners draws me in every time. In this instance, the stoners were known to me long before I ever saw them on-screen: Jay and Silent Bob. After months and months of conversations about the recurring nature of these two characters, and repeated encouragement to watch Dogma, I finally caved. What we have are two halves of the stoner stereotype: the one who can’t stop talking, and occasionally says something intelligent, and the one who rarely talks and usually comes up with the ideas in the first case. The voice and the wisdom of stoners across all of Hollywood, wrapped up in two extraordinary characters.
We meet them as prophets, to travel with the protagonist of the movie: Bethany. Surrounding Bethany are the weird and wonderful pieces of Christian “mythology”: the angels, the demons, the prophets. We’re introduced, through Bethany, to Metatron, the Voice of God. Played by the late Alan Rickman, Metatron speaks with purpose and intent, and shared with Bethany the secrets of heaven, and a task which she must complete – or the whole of existence will suffer the consequences. All in all, Metatron is a pretty decent guy.
Adding to the angel party are Loki and Bartleby, played by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The pair present to us two different types of angels: the warriors and the watchers. Bartleby was a watcher, there to observe the sins of man, while Loki served as the Angel of Death, present at a number of biblical catastrophes. They have one mission in the movie: return to Heaven, after their expulsion at the beginning of history.
While Loki and Bartleby make their way across the country on their mission, making a couple of hilarious stops along the way as only disgruntled angels can, Bethany is busy running into all number of strange phenomenon, from a Muse to a dead man, and a demon with a potty mouth. (The name of which is one of my favourite things I think I’ve ever heard in a movie, and so I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.)
Throughout the film, we’re given an awful lot to think about regarding religion and belief systems as a whole. Four years of theology in college has me wary of any attempt to speak about religion so candidly as Dogma does, but rather than simply attack Christianity (and Catholicism in particular), the movie deals with religion in a refreshingly inviting way. The truth is this: no religion is perfect. No religion has everything figured out. No single way of expressing belief in a higher power is perfect. There will always be an issue with it, one way or another, and the movie acknowledges this point in its argument. While it operates under the assumption that God is real, this approach to faith is the least insulting I’ve encountered in any conversation about religion since I started college. (Even when I graduated and didn’t go on to use the theology aspect of my degree, I am still held to answer others regarding their criticisms of religion. No one, even those who’ve seen Dogma, ever thought to take this approach. But that’s a conversation for a different website.)
All in all, Dogma addresses the strange mix of stoner film and theological debate perfectly within the confines of a fantasy comedy, including the weirdest nude scene of Alan Rickman you’ll ever see, power-hungry versions of Damon and Affleck, and the coolest hetero-life-mates in recent cinema history. Consider me hooked on the View Askewniverse.