Once upon a time, in the late 20th century, existence was
almost snuffed out without a trace. This is the premise of Kevin
Smith's comic fantasia, Dogma, which unfolds the fiercely funny
adventures of a group of mortal humans and surreal supernatural
beings as they make a pilgrimage to New Jersey to stop the
accidental apocalypse any which way they can.
Smith has previously written and directed three movies that
took on such earthly subjects as the lives of retail employees
(Clerks), the Mall Generation (Mall Rats) and unrequited love
(Chasing Amy). With Dogma, he takes his storytelling style to a
new domain: a fantastical milieu, a sort of cosmological yet
comical Oz, in which human beings meet up with a coterie of
colorful characters from the celestial world -and get a
first-hand glimpse of their lives, duties and temper tantrums.
Here, Smith's trademark verbal roller- coaster collides with
otherworldly adventure and special effects.
"a monumental comedy
about heaven and earth"
Smith wrote Dogma around the same time of his first feature
film, Clerks, when a personal moment of doubt led to a monumental
comedy about heaven and earth and the funny things that happen in
the space between the two. Smith fashioned a phantasmagorical
world populated by ether-dwelling angels and steaming, stenching
demons who spring literally from the bowels of the earth --a
cartoon-like world where he could chat playfully about some of
the issues on his mind. "It started with me asking some
questions about my own faith but the flick doesn't attempt to
hold out answers to any of those questions," says Smith.
It's meant to make you laugh."
He continues: "Predominantly, what I've always done is
relationship movies and this is a farce and a fantasy about the
relationship with God. But no one can mistake it for any sort of
tome or a text. The absurdity of the characters sticks a pin into
any potential didacticism. All along, I've thought how seriously
can you take a movie that has a rubber poop monster in it?"
Smith waited to make Dogma because he didn't feel quite ready
to take on the more ambitious filmmaking requirements of a pure
fantasy replete with winged flights of fancy. "Personally, I
don't think I was mature enough to take it on until now, "
says Smith. "Not that the subject matter is so mature
-because it's really a flick that's as goofy as it is thoughtful
-but I think taking it on earlier would have led to a far more
adolescent film. I'm pretty much the least visual director around
so making such a visual film was a stretch and I wanted this
world to really pop."
"was peppered with so
When Smith's producing partner Scott Mosier read Dogma, the
wild world Smith had forged came immediately to life in his head.
"This was a script that really did something different and
new," says Mosier. "It was peppered with so much fun
and so many different questions. But it also had all those
elements that make Kevin's movies so appealing."
At first Mosier attempted to define the movie, but eventually
he gave up. "This movie is completely uncategorisable,"
he admits. "lt has it's own tempo, it's own groove that's
very different from anything else. Every time you think it's one
thing -a fantasy, a comic journey, an inquiry into faith --it
switches to another mood. The only thing you can do is let go and
allow it to happen to you. If you try to say it's one thing or
another, you're fighting the nature of the film."
Mosier was particularly drawn to Smith's depiction of heavenly
creatures as complex, emotional beings who behave like far more
powerful, and therefore sometimes more absurd, reflections of
humankind. "In the fantasy of Dogma, angels and demons have
very human motivations: they act out of rage and fear and
romance," points out Mosier. "It's a very original and
funny vision of the heavens." For both Smith and Mosier, the
key to making Dogma work was finding a group of
actors who got the joke and the spirit of the vision.
"The commitment of the actors made me want to make a
phenomenal flick because they were all taking a leap of faith in
telling a story about a leap of faith," says Smith.
THE RENEGADES: LOKI AND BARTLEBY
Dogma is in part Kevin Smith's imaginative fantasia on the
personal affairs and age-old conflicts of Celestial Beings in the
late 20th Century. At the core of the story are two fallen
angels: Loki and Bartleby. Angels of course are the winged,
cloud-dwelling spiritual beings deemed superior to man in power
and intelligence. But these two overstepped their bounds -and
were banished from heaven for eternity. Exiled to the Midwest,
all they want is to go home - even if it means obliterating their
inferior human brethren.
To play the demoted duo, Kevin Smith chose two actors whose
comic rapport is well established: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon,
co-stars and co-writers of the Oscar winning Good Will Hunting.
Affleck has had a long-standing relationship with Smith, having
starred in Chasing Amy and Mall Rats. He's always had an affinity
for Smith's trademark brand of brash and provocative humor. But
this script was different.
"This is Kevin's first foray into making a real, whole
movie with all of its components; it is his effects-Iaden, verbal
trampoline blockbuster in a way," says Affleck. "He has
created a modern fantasy story, using familiar spiritual beings
to forge this whole set of colorful characters on a mission. It's
hip and cool and I think it has two great things going for it: on
the one hand it's a chance to see an innovative, unusual
filmmaker doing something groundbreaking. And on the other it's
just plain funny, entertaining and vibrant."
According to Damon, "Dogma is a totally different animal
from Kevin's other movies, a totally different look and feel. The
only thing that remains the same is Kevin's sense of humor and
his sensibility. When it comes to Kevin, I like to use the word
irreverent but he comes at this subject with a lot of reverence.
He takes on some serious themes here in a fun and light way. It's
a comic book story but to me it has a spiritual
Affleck describes Bartleby and Loki as two guys who just want
to go home. "They have been in Wisconsin for thousands of
years and they're ready to go back to heaven," explains
Affleck. " And they're not about to let anything stop
"New Jersey becomes the gateway to Loki and Bartleby's
dreams," adds Damon. "But we aren't the brightest
angels in the world, and in the process, we set in motion this
whole series of events that could create the end of all existence
- not good."
"Without Ben, I don't
think I could have done this movie" Smith on Affleck
For both actors, a lot of the fun of the movie was getting to
play the sort of Laurel and Hardy comic partnership of the
celestial domain. Says Damon: "It was easy to fall into
playing old buddies who have been kicking around on earth
together for eons, because that's already how we feel about each
other. We've been through a lot together; we've had some exciting
times and some pretty boring ones, so we can imagine spending
eternity in Wisconsin together."
Kevin Smith sees Ben Affleck as "the linchpin of the
film." He explains: "No matter how much Ben's star rose
during the making of this movie, he never lost his desire to make
the film or his belief in it. Without Ben, I don't think I could
have done this movie. He was there one hundred percent. He worked
like a dog to bring something to this role he's never really
brought to the screen before. I think his is the toughest job in
the movie: he's a character who goes from one end of the spectrum
to the other, and goes completely over the edge at one
As for Damon, Smith comments: "Who else could have such
great chemistry with Affleck? Matt took a leap and it really pays
off. He took the opportunity to show off his comic side."
HUMBLE HUMANSWhen Loki and Bartleby decide to take out their
rage against the rules of heaven by breaking them, they almost
take out humanity in the process. Being angels and snobs when it
comes to the frailties of human flesh, they barely care, but the
rest of Heaven isn't so pleased about this potential outcome.
Since only a human can save humanity, the dubious task falls to
Bethany, an ordinary woman who isn't even quite sure she believes
in the angels and demons who become her traveling buddies and
partners in rescuing the world.
"Linda really changed
my perspective" Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith originally envisioned Bethany as a young,
inexperienced heroine like many of the humans who populate his
comedies, but when Fiorentino read the script and aggressively
pursued the part, she altered his vision. "Linda really
changed my perspective on the character," states Smith.
"She redefined Bethany as someone who's done some hard
living, who's taken some knocks, who's questioning her faith as
She brings a real humanity and experience to the role that
befits someone who's lived through a lot and has a lot of
questions. She also became a much better foil to Jay and Silent
Bob's adolescent goofiness. She can say 'I'm a woman; why are you
treating me like I'm 14?"'
Says Linda Fiorentino: "When I read the script, I just
said there's no way anyone else is allowed to have this part. I
thought it was extremely clever and it had very imaginative
answers to all my childhood questions about angels and devils and
the apostles and all that stuff."
Fiorentino viewed Bethany as "a very grown-up version of
Dorothy. Bethany is having her own crisis when she enters this
kind of Oz where she's really the only human surrounded by muses
and demons and Seraphim and they're all trying to get to New
Jersey instead of Kansas," she explains. "The funny
part of it to me is that she is such an inept heroine: the world
rests in her hands but she doesn't know what she believes or what
hilarious movie" Linda
To get deeper into the role, Fiorentino viewed Bethany's story
personally as one "about a woman's plight in searching of
forgiveness from - and for - God" a theme for which her own
Catholic upbringing prepared her. But ultimately, says
Fiorentino: "This is a dangerously hilarious movie that
really reflects Kevin Smith."
As for working with Smith, Fiorentino has christened him
"the Reluctant Director. He's not innately a control freak,
which is almost a contradiction in terms for a director," he
comments. "He's a genius writer and a great actor and he is
very generous and respectful in his treatment of other actors.
You really didn't want too controlled an environment on this
movie since Dogma is a comedy about things falling apart."
As things do begin to come apart at the seams, Bethany is told
she will be assisted in her mission by two prophets, human beings
who carry a powerful connection to the cosmos. But nothing can
prepare her for the profane nature of the prophets she
encounters: Jay and Silent Bob, the hapless suburbanite duo who
have appeared in all of Kevin Smith's films to date; This time
around, Jay and Silent Bob are at the center of something much
bigger than either of them could possibly comprehend, let alone
prophesise about. Yet somehow their warped comical presence
drives Bethany forward, if only out of dismay, to the New Jersey
church where they will make a stand for humankind.
Jason Mewes reprises his role as the grossly verbose Jay,
taking the character to new heights of cosmic absurdity.
"Mewes is Mewes, as ever," notes Kevin Smith, who first
cast his non-professional, childhood friend as a stoner in
Clerks, "but he went above and beyond this time. He's come a
long way as an actor who is very present in the scene. I really
impressed upon him that he had to be prepared for this movie.
'There are real actors in this one,' we kept telling him. And he
held his own against people like Affleck and Rickman."
"Dogma's really funny and there's some cool stuff in
it," summarizes Mewes in his characteristic style.
"Basically Jay and Silent Bob are on their way to New Jersey
when this chick Bethany wants to come along and Jay's thinking
'yeah, cool' because he thinks he's going to get laid and instead
he ends up discovering angels and devils and stuff like