Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Movie #212: Dogma

Dogma is a 1999 Kevin Smith movie starring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Chris Rock, Alan Rickman, Jason Lee, Salma Hayek, and, obviously, Jason Mewes and Smith himself.

So: There's this church in New Jersey in which the local cardinal (George Carlin) is trying to revamp Catholicism for the new generation. In addition to retiring the crucifix and introducing the "Buddy Christ," he's going to rededicate the church and use some Catholic wiggle-rule called "plenary indulgence" - you just come in to the church, you're clean of all sin. This is nice, right?

But ah-ha. Two fallen angels (Damon and Affleck) who have been banished to Wisconsin for all of human history, learn about this via an anonymous letter, and figure they can use it get back to Heaven (see, they can cut off their wings and become human, and thus gain forgiveness via plenary indulgence - there's a huge plot hole here, which I'll go into briefly below). Trouble is, doing this would prove God fallible, and then all of reality un-creates. The Metatron (Rickman) taps an abortion clinic work named Bethany Sloane (Fiorentino), herself a lapsed Catholic, to stop them, and she picks up two "prophets" along the way (Mewes and Smith as Jay and Silent Bob), as well as the forgotten 13th apostle (Rock).

So, plot hole: Here's the thing. The reason plenary indulgence works for the angels is because Church law is treated as Divine law (Affleck quotes the last promise Christ made to Peter: whatever you hold true here on Earth I will hold true in Heaven). Catholic dogma is likewise held, in the paradigm of the movie, to be true. That in mind, what stopped the angels from becoming human and then getting re-baptized into the faith, or doing their penance, and getting back to Heaven that way? Never mind that, why didn't they just live as people? Much of their angst in the movie is bound up in the fact humans get the best treatment from God (which is a load of bullshit, but whatever), but they were always capable of being human.

Anyway, never mind that. Turns out God has been kidnapped; He likes to become human every so often and play skeeball, and while doing so he got beaten into a coma. So he's trapped in New Jersey, unable to die and thus go to Heaven, while this whole plot is going on. It's orchestrated by a very clever demon (Lee), who just wants to escape Hell once and for all - but he can't, being a demon and not an angel, he can't "transubstantiate" and become human.

In the end, the angels massacre a bunch of people, become human, Affleck kills Damon, and then is about to enter the church when Bethany finds and "kills" God, allowing Him...Her, rather, since She's played by Alanis Morrisette, to intervene. Deus ex cathedra.

It's a fun movie. Very much a Smith movie, with all the juvenile humor that goes with that, but mostly it just come from Jay, as opposed to in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back when it's from everything. The other folks raise some fairly poignant points about life and God and free will and selfishness and so on, and so if you take the movie's paradigm seriously, it works nicely. Smith is obviously a geek, because he pays attention to the rules by which God's magic works (to wit: the whole "skeeball-and-now-in-a-coma" thing).

Michelle and I talked about this movie and why I like it, because she'd have expected otherwise. But I don't need to believe in elves to enjoy Lord of the Rings. I don't take issue with the movie's quasi-message that faith is a good thing, either, because Rock in particular makes it obvious that blind faith is stupid and gets people killed. Ideas, perhaps inspired by faith, are the better metric, because they're useful and ultimately mutable. All of my usual problems with the Judeo-Christian version of God remain, in real life, but this is a movie - even if Smith might believe some of it, that doesn't affect my viewing experience.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Donnie Darko