Movie Review

Dogma

MPAA Rating: R for strong language including sex-related dialogue, violence, crude humor and some drug content

Reviewed by: Brad D. Francis
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Comedy
Length:
2 hr. 10 min.
R

Starring: Linda Fiorentino, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, George Carlin, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Bud Cort, Alanis Morissette | Director: Kevin Smith | Writer: Kevin Smith | Distributor: Lions Gate Films

Another view…

I felt that going to see this movie would be a mistake, and my fears were well founded. Since I have seen the movie, I should warn fellow Christians that you almost certainly will find it offensive too. The basic premise of the movie is that God is fallible. Of secondary importance is that organized religion is misguided. The plot of the movie encapsulated in a nutshell is the following: the Pope has granted a plenary indulgence (forgiving all sins) to any sinner who enters a particular church in New Jersey. This church is led by a Bishop (played by George Carlin!) who has started a new religious revival campaign called “Catholicism Wow!” centered on a new image of our savior (Buddy Christ, winking and giving everyone a thumbs up). Two fallen angels, one of them the former Angel of Death, see this as an opportunity to try to get back in the good graces of God. What these angels don’t realize is that if they do enter the church this would prove God to be fallible and the very fabric of existence would be torn apart. Since God is incapacitated after being beaten up by 3 demons who left Him in a coma, the last descendent of Jesus Christ must prevent such an occurrence from happening.

The offensive material abounded. Along the way, the last scion of Jesus encounters two sex crazed, foul-mouthed “prophets”, a nude but unknown apostle (who’s black and who claims that Jesus was black), a pagan muse who is a stripper, and a doo-doo demon. The blasphemy was really too much. Jesus having a descendent? Jesus being black? [He was Jewish.] Implying that God’s word isn’t true? Implying that God can be beat up by a demon? Worst of all is the implication that God makes errors.
—Tina Glencer, age 25

First of all, I’ve gotta come right off the bat and say that I found the film “Dogma” to be entirely intriguing. The Catholic Church has, of course, come across with outrage at the portrayal of Catholics in the movie, and I saw a piece on NBC’s “Today” where they expressed outrage at the movie’s statement that Jesus had brothers and sisters, that Mary didn’t remain a virgin. Okay, that’s biblical—something which I actually found a surprisingly large amount of the movie to be.

The premise of the movie involves two angels, played by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Damon’s character used to be the angel of death but his friend convinced him to quit, thus going against God. Their punishment? Banishment to Wisconsin. They take human form, although still have many angelic qualities, such as retractable wings. All they want is to get back to heaven, and they think they’ve found a loophole to permit it… and that’s the movie. If they succeeded in such an endeavor, it would prove God wrong, which would prove reality to be non-reality… and everything ceases to exist! So a group of misfits works to prevent this from happening, including two misguided “prophets,” the thirteenth apostle (Chris Rock), a human innocent and others.

When a movie starts with a disclaimer that basically says, “Lighten up, God has a sense of humor,” you know you’re in for a ride. And many Christians would take offense to the very strong language (heavy use of the “F” word and about every other word you can probably think of) in “Dogma”. Although sex is referred to many times, and one character is clearly obsessed with it, it’s hardly a focus of the movie which goes much deeper into theology. Also, there is quite a bit of gore and violence in the movie. This is definitely not for kids.

You can’t expect Hollywood to make an entirely theologically accurate movie, can you? Well, this is first of all a non-Hollywood production, but we’ll suffice to throw it in with Hollywood and say no—it is not biblically accurate. But I think that the theological inaccuracies it presents are greatly outweighed by the very good questions they’re asking. Some of it goes back to the whole “Why do bad things happen to good people?” question. But many of the ideas presented in this movie, particularly by Chris Rock’s character, are things that Christians could really do well to think about. I think the best thing about “Dogma” (except for the fact that it is quite funny), is its theology—more intriguing than offensive.

Bottom line: If you are strong in your faith and don’t have a real problem with the profanity, crude references and violence, the content of this movie is worth seeing. However, most Christians should probably stay away for those reasons. But if you do see it, let it question your faith and make you think. You may find yourself coming away stronger for it.

Related Questions from ChristianAnswers.Net:
  • Learn about the real Jesus Christ. Go
  • What issues often separate Roman Catholics from God? Answer
  • Is sola Scriptura a biblical or a man-made concept? (Traditions vs. Scripture alone) Answer
  • Is the Bible truly the final authority in all matters of faith and morals? Answer
  • What did the Early Church believe about sola Scriptura? Answer
  • Salvation through faith by grace alone Go
  • Other topics: Salvation in Christ alone | The Virgin Mary | The Pope and infallibility | The Mass | Purgatory | The priestly system
  • Personal testimonies: A priest | A nun

Year of Release—1999

Viewer Comments
Understand that as I review this movie, I am a huge fan of Kevin Smith and have waited for this movie for over a year. “Dogma” is everything all the reviewers have said. It is filled with foul language and sexual dialogue. It displays God in both good and bad ways. I however enjoyed this movie thoroughly. It did make fun of Catholicism, but for reasons I understand and agree with. I am not Catholic and I see their flaws, just as Kevin Smith does. The movie had a lot of interesting questions brought up, but never displayed God in a bad way. The only spiritually unsound aspect was the whole “if you believe anything you’re ok” view… My Ratings: [3/4]
—Peter O'Notero, age 18
I have to say, I was far more offended by Jay’s character in the film (he is still one of the most obnoxious on screen characters, IMHO, no matter how nice a guy he may be) than any of the theological content in the film. And some of the theological content is great. Look for Bartleby’s speech on free will in the parking garage, and Serendipity’s comment “You people don’t celebrate your faith, you mourn it.” And one thing I think “Dogma” hits right on the head is that God DOES have a sense of humor. However, other times Smith is in over his head, theologically. Many times, the movie descends into basic Unitarian propositions: “It’s not what you believe in, it that you believe.” Not a good thing, really. Kevin Smith has been quoted as saying that Helen Keller could fashion more visually interesting films than he does. I totally agree. One of the things that drags this film down is that the type of movie screams “comic book!” all over it. However, Smith’s style of “set camera down, frame actors, let them talk” which worked fine in his previous films, just doesn’t cut it here. Smith writes really well, although still heavy on the profanity. But his razor sharp dialogue is unfortunately hurt by his not so razor sharp comic timing. However, it’s really hard to complain too much about Kevin Smith. The guy actually hung out all day (completely incognito) in NJ with protesters, carrying his own sign saying “To Hell with Dogma.” He’s handled the whole controversy surrounding “Dogma” with a more Christ-like attitude than many Christians. In short, not a great film, but definitely worth seeing, if only because it attempts some serious theological discussion to varying degrees of success, which is extremely rare nowadays. It also has the dubious honor of being a far sight better than “The Omega Code.” My Ratings: [1½/3½]
—Jason Murphy, age 20
As Christians, we’re called upon to truly love each other. One of the ways we do that is by respecting and encouraging the purity of each person—in thought, word, and deed. As a filmmaker, particularly one who claims to be Christian, Kevin Smith has a responsibility to respect the purity of his audience. If he doesn’t do this, he’s sending a mixed message. “Love God, love Jesus, but you don’t have to worry about loving your neighbor even though Jesus commanded you to.” All the unnecessary vulgarity in this movie demonstrates a lack of respect for others. People won’t respond without vulgarity? If we as a society can’t find humor in anything other than the obscene, that’s a problem in itself—not something a responsible filmmaker has to cater to though… This movie might make you think about your faith but it also leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
—Eric, age 28
#1. The Catholic Church never condemned this film. A non-church affiliated group did. #2. You have to be Catholic to appreciate this movie. I would be very surprised if any Evangelical Christians got all the “in” jokes. You got “The Omega Code,” we got “Dogma.” they’re both mediocre.
—Brian, age 26
I recently saw “Dogma” and enjoyed it very much. As you may have already heard or read there is a lot of foul language and some brief nudity, but please by no means allow this to turn you away. (Nothing said or shown that you have not seen or heard before.) Word of caution to those young in Christ. Be sure of what you know and stand on that knowledge. I enjoyed the underlying tones of this movie made towards God and Jesus Christ. I felt some excellent points were made by the characters that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon portrayed in the film. One point in particular is that God is infinitely more patient with us in our mess, showing us grace and mercy. And in His patience and after He has shown us love (the human race) there exists a majority of us that don’t want to give of our time to him (going to church to fellowship and sharing with others His goodness) or of ourselves. And what ticks me off as with Ben’s character is that some even to the extreme as to say that He doesn’t exist! The muse that was sent to hell made an interesting point also. His scheme to have them blinked out of existence would be better himself included is far better than eternity in hell. I felt that he conveyed a very important fact that hell is real and its no joke. My Ratings: [3/4]
—Edward Kirby III, age 31
“Dogma” is NOT blasphemous, it is a modern day parable about “dogma” in organized religion, particularly Catholicism (Catholics are particularly into tradition). It offers humor about Christianity (like the black apostle who says Jesus was black and gets kicked out of heaven and the “happy Jesus” thing) as well as crude jokes for the less-refined. The writer, Kevin Smith, is a Christian (I heard him say he doesn’t “witness” but this movie more than makes up for it, due to its positive pro-Christian messages). Final Note: This movie is actually a pro-Christian film, despite its profanity and sex jokes. See it, but don’t take little kids. My Ratings: [4/5]
—Matt Quinn, age 15
This movie is the epitome of the statement that behind every joke there is a serious thought. It is definitely worth getting past the offensive language and content to see the deep truths about God’s character and nature that are revealed throughout the movie. For instance, the angel called The Voice’s reason for why God chooses to speak to mankind through angels; the conversation between the two rebellious angels about God’s attitude towards mankind versus his attitude towards angels; the strong statement about the fact that Mary did not remain a virgin for her entire life; the comments that are made about how the focus of factions and denominations on trivial issues cause division and distract from the core truth of the gospel; the fact that organized religion is so caught up in rules and regulations we restrict people from enjoying the liberty that Christ died to give us. Yes, there are definitely statements that are made about God that aren’t true. Yes, most of the content does come off irreverent and as big stretches of the imagination. But this film is not meant to be taken literally. There are excellent statements of truth about God latent throughout this movie. Such statements, for those who see them, can serve as excellent opportunities to dialogue with unbelievers about the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you are easily offended and weak in your faith, don’t see this movie. But if you are willing to hear an honest dialogue from someone wrestling with their faith in a satirical format, go see this movie standing firm in your faith in Christ, and enjoy it. My Ratings: [2½/3½]
—Ilayna Wright, age 24
“Dogma” contains [many] Christian themes… That God loves and forgives us for sins if we only repent and ask for forgiveness. Near the end of “Dogma” one of the fallen angels goes crazy and commits a massacre. When confronted by God he immediately repents and says with tears in his eyes “I’m sorry,” and is embraced by God’s love and forgiveness. A muse states that God should be treated as a blessing and not a burden. Bethany learns that she must have faith in God’s plan before her plan. Bethany always blamed god for destroying her ability to have children and for her husband’s desertion. At the end of the movie, Bethany, acting unselfishly, makes a leap of faith for God saving the world and sacrificing herself in the process. God rewards her for having faith in him (or her as God is in the movie) and not thinking of only herself but all of humanity by bringing her back to life and giving Bethany her fondest wish—a child. The movie also teaches that faith is an important thing to have and that we cannot always rely on just the church to give us faith but that some of it is up to us. True—“Dogma” contains foul language, much of it sexually related, mild nudity, and graphic violence. I did feel that the film should have been toned down some. But the movie is very funny, well-acted (Alan Rickman deserves an Academy Award nomination for his hilarious and touching performance as Metatron, the voice of god), and while it is a humorous take on Christianity with raunchy jokes, very few are insulting to Jesus or God. …“Dogma” portrays God as loving, kind, and forgiving of his children. The content involving George Carlin as a Catholic Cardinal who wants to retire the crucifix played to me not as an insult to what the cross means but as a warning not to forget that Jesus Christ died for us. In terms of being biblically correct the film does put a disclaimer on at the beginning stating that “Dogma” is a work of fiction. My Ratings: [2½/4]
—Andrew, age 23
While [some in] the Catholic Church [have] moved quickly to denounce this film, if they actually saw it they would probably feel differently. The film is very pro-faith and you end up walking out of the film with renewed spirit. The angels are NOT trying to take over the world, they are trying to get home to Heaven after being exiled years before. they’re plan is to walk through a church’s archway on its Centennial celebration which will wipe away all their sins. Inadvertently they will be causing existence to disappear since it was God’s decree that they be cast out of heaven. If God is proven fallible, existence comes to an end. While the language is extreme, like all of Kevin Smith’s films, the message in this one is more powerful. As Kevin says at the beginning this is a “Comic Fantasy” and should not be taken entirely seriously. However, it is in no way blasphemous, nor is it heresy. It addresses some very interesting religious points and ultimately is an intelligent debate on the subject of faith, and the loss of that faith. I greatly enjoyed the movie as I have been wrestling with the questions of faith since I was a child. Go in with an open mind and you may be surprised to see it will get you thinking. Remember having ideas is better then having beliefs. My Ratings: [2/4½]
—R., age 26
I viewed this movie this weekend, with a group of people that I led on a retreat the previous weekend. I saw immense amounts of crudity in this movie: not a movie for children who don’t understand its point. The movie’s point is the underlying disenchantment of American society with the inability of organized religion to answer all our questions. One very interesting quote about mass (which I, for the most apart agree with) is “People aren’t celebrating their faith, their mourning it.” An interesting tidbit for those who listen closely, is that in the movie a priest, during mass, says “Let us proclaim the recession of faith” (as opposed to the profession of faith). I gave this movie a Moral Rating of 5 because it encourages all who see it to re-evaluate their faith and views on religion. It encourages us to ask ourselves about blind faith, and ask ourselves why we believe certain things the way we do. Some of the crudity was unnecessary, but admittedly funny, and the filmmaking quality was excellent. My Ratings: [5/4]
—Nathan Johnson, age 17
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I was reading on another site and saw an interview with the Director Kevin Smith. I haven’t seen any of the trailers leave maybe a short clip of one. When I started reading this interview I was like alright, this guy’s a Christian this movie’s gonna be great. But then I saw this quote “I have lots of friends; none of them go to church, none of them believe in God. And I’m never trying to convert them: “Let me tell you about my friend Jesus Christ.” That’s their choice. They don’t want to believe in God, that’s fine.” He goes on to say that he didn’t want to make a movie that was “weenie-ish”…
—Brant Shepherd, age 20
My first word of caution—if you’re not familiar with writer/director Kevin Smith’s material then you’re going to be shocked. There is offensive language, yes; most of it from the mouth of the character Jay, who is drawn as an extreme caricature of the worst in all of us. There is a spot of nudity. If you’re squeamish about seeing a black man’s behind, then you can close your eyes. However—the movie is well crafted and offers a provocative look at organized religion. Smith is a man who knows his doctrine—there is no question within the premise of the movie that God is perfect and almighty, and that Christ is his divine and salvatory Son. Looking at this movie from the dual (not opposed, as some would think) perspective of being both a Christian and a film student, I was not offended by the presentation of God or religion. Religion—in this instance Roman Catholicism—is portrayed as filled with petty squabbles and materialism. Is that far from the truth? The human institution of organized religion is a shambles of disunity and fraud. The fallen angels are just that—fallen from grace. God is just.

The prophets are normal, sinful men chosen by God to act in accordance with His will, and they have as much opposition to it as did Moses, Jonah, or Ezekiel. I will agree that parts of the movie sat oddly with me but don’t condemn it out of self-righteousness. Remember—you are no more and no less sinful than any of the human characters in the movie. And the movie being made by sinful humans, it is no more and no less imperfect than anything else made by mankind. What it does well is entertain. Smith is a wizard at blending two levels of story—you’ve got the potty humor for the guys in the penny seats as well as the deep theology for the thoughtful types. Like I mentioned, Smith treats the material with accuracy and respect.

God is infallible—people are not. God is perfect—religion is not. Realize that without the potty humor (well scripted potty humor at that) a large portion of the audience would have been lost—people that would not have been exposed to the spiritual side of the story. Go see it. And don’t get all upset over the petty things. For all we know, Jesus was black, like they say in the movie. And if so—does it change who he is or what he did? Does it matter? Ask yourself that question before you get upset at some point that Smith makes. If the honest and sincere answer is yes then you can throw your fit. My Ratings: [3/4½]
—David Malki, age 19
I am not Christian, let alone Catholic, but I sympathize in certain respects with the devout’s consternation at this film. Not with things like a female God, un-Virgin Mary, or black Christ (those who are bothered by such talk need to look deeper into themselves and ask why this disturbs them so), but rather the “bureaucratic” nature of the ethereal plane seems to take away greatly from the omnipotence of God. Particularly the idea that He/She can become trapped in a comatose human body. Although he said in the disclaimer that “Dogma” is satire and farce, director Kevin Smith’s earnestness shows through so powerfully at so many turns that one gets the distinct impression that he really thinks Heaven is this tied up by paperwork and contractual obligations. I was moved by Chris Rock’s statement about having faith vs. having a good idea (he got so many good lines in this movie, and actually showed an acting range). But while Smith tried to give us the impression that good and evil are not for humans to judge, he shows his hand a couple of times. Bartlby says he can’t kill Bethany because she hasn’t done anything bad in her life to deserve death—although she was working at an abortion clinic.

Earlier, though, Loki has no problem killing a man for nothing more than disowning his gay son. To me, a non-Biblicist who has read vast segments of the text, those scenes seem to clearly turn Biblical edict on its ear. Jay and Silent Bob are the main reason I look forward to the next Kevin Smith film, although Smith always surrounds his “prophets” with a well-developed stories (“Mallrats” not-withstanding). Those hung up on swear words coming out the mouths of the unwashed are the people Smith is laughing at the most in his films. Actually, the most shocking thing I saw in this movie was the cameo by the actual governor of New Jersey as herself, standing next to a mitered George Carlin, who is about to chuck the crucifix as the symbol of Christianity. That takes some major political cajones. My Ratings: [2½/4]
—Len, age 28, non-Christian
Those of you who intend to boycott this film have no idea what you’re missing. If you’re going to reduce your love of movies to what’s “offensive” in them, you’re completely missing the point and weakening your ability to understand truth and the imperfection inherent in the human spirit. Therefore, I give this movie a Christian rating of 5—because even though there is plenty to be offended about in terms of vulgarity, very little offends the human heart. This movie tackles some VERY important questions about the Catholic faith, and I did not believe “Dogma” was insulting to it in the slightest. This movie has done its Biblical homework, and will challenge and captivate your mind, and was obviously written by someone very, very passionate about religion and its place in our lives. My Ratings: [5/5]
—Don Pflaster, age 24, non-Christian
…let me suggest that you look past the facades and into the real message behind the movie. Yes, the “f-word” is said a few times, and let’s face it, most Gen-X types (of whom I am one) wouldn’t pay the movie a second glance unless they peppered that word around. (I’m not one of those, however). But, when I walked out of this movie, I found myself asking deeply important questions about God and where I stand with the Divine. Do yourself a favour—don’t fall into the knee-jerk reaction of “Oh, they showed a half-naked woman, said a few “f-words” and made a crack or two on the notion of organized religion” and toss the movie out the window with prejudice. Be a little open minded with it.
—Michele, age 23, non-Christian
…I’ve seen the theatrical trailer and this movie will make “Michael” look like “VeggieTales”. It’s a movie about fallen angels who try to take over the world. The heroes of this movie are angels who act like demons. In one clip, Cris Rock says that in Heaven, angels spend all their time watching women undress. He also says that Jesus owes him money. The trailer also shows a women opening her shirt, revealing her bra. If this is in the trailer, I don’t want to know what’s in the actual movie.
—Josh Johnson, age 19
Movie Critics
At least 100 uses of the “f” word… Violence is also extreme… Heavy on sex and nudity
—ScreenIt