Luc Besson's 'Dogman' Rides a Theme of Religiosity Hard

Sure, Luc Besson's new film "Dogman" is a colorful, bizarre, and surreal piece of work, but it's also surprisingly thoughtful and philosophical in its musings on religion and morality.

The film follows Louis, a struggling father and husband, who also happens to be a teenage drag queen wannabe, working at a LGBT senior center. His life takes a turn for the surreal when he dresses up as his idol, Marilyn Monroe, and walks a group of dogs that have been abandoned by their wealthy owners who are away for the summer.

One night, while walking the dogs, Louis finds a man unconscious on the beach. This man, Jojo, turns out to be a runaway from a children's psychiatric hospital, and he has a penchant for stealing and setting things on fire. He also believes himself to be the second coming of Christ, hence the quotation from French poet Charles Baudelaire at the start of the film: "Dogs have more divinity than men."

This prompts Louis to take Jojo under his wing and back to his home where he and his wife, Donna, must care for him while also dealing with their own traumatic past.

Through it all, Besson infuses the film with biblical and religious iconography, ranging from a few well-timed sight gags — including one remarkably absurd moment when Jojo directs a crowd of adoring followers to scream "FIRE!" at a terrified Jesus on the cross — to a dire conclusion that gives way to a crucifixion tableau that's both shocking and surprisingly tender.

Through it all, "Dogman" doesn't provide any easy answers or even assume that religious belief is the one true path to morality or a better world. Instead, it uses its hybrid of spoof, satire, and heartfelt interactions to show how complicated life and morality can be, especially when life throws you a curveball like Jojo.

It's also a film that feels refreshingly upbeat about the state of the world, despite its catastrophic themes. When asked early in the film about the impending apocalypse, Jojo replies, "It's gonna be a blast!"

That pretty much sums up the tone of the film, which embraces absurdity and revels in the beauty of life despite its many struggles.

It's a testament to Besson's skills that he can take a premise that could easily have devolved into a cheaply made camp romp and turn it into a thoughtful, melancholy, and surprisingly moving character study.

It also helps that he has assembled a talented cast, especially Jason Isaacs as Louis, who gives one of his best performances in years. He skillfully navigates the character's struggles and inner demons with ease, infusing Louis with a melancholy and sadness that makes his eventual triumph all the more uplifting.

Danish actor Lucas Hedges, who previously starred in "Boy Erased," also shines as Jojo, navigating the character's numerous quirks and emotional highs and lows with ease. He beautifully captures Jojo's childlike innocence and suffering, making it easy to empathize with his delusions even when he's committing unspeakable acts.

The two also share an easygoing chemistry that grounds the film and makes the emotional punches land harder.

Overall, "Dogman" is a refreshingly unique experience, a bizarre and bonkers trip that's also thoughtfully reflective on the nature of suffering, morality, and belief.

It's a film that defies easy categorization, but that's part of its charm. It's unlike anything else out there, and you'll likely leave the theater with a big goofy grin on your face, pondering life's big questions.

And isn't that what great cinema is all about?

This story appeared on nytimes.com, ["https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/16/movies/dogman-review.html?searchResultPosition=1"], and is republished here with permission.

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