The Divine Tragedy of Kevin Smith: Clerks III and The Praise of Banality

One of the things that makes Dante’s Divine Comedy a masterpiece is the constant sense of drive that pushing beneath it. Borrowing from the great poets of the western canon, the Florencia poet crafted one of the greatest stories of pilgrimage ever put to paper. And that story ultimately starts by mulling over the question of damnation and the fear of being trapped in a horrific place. 

“Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.” (Canto I)

The journey of the poem is thus one of renewal and rejuvenation, wherein our narrator must address his sins and follow his desire to reunite with the love of his life to transcend himself out of the pain and terror he’s inflicted upon his soul in order to save himself. 

It’s curious then that Clerks III—a sequel to a movie that clearly alludes to these ideas—hasn’t learned from them. 

I haven’t seen Kevin Smith’s newest film Clerks III yet. It was being presented on a roadshow last week by Fathom Events and several screenings sold out. Regal evidently opened it wider this weekend but I’m not dying to see it. I lack the wherewithal to get excited about a series of movies about banality, and the reviews coming in suggest that it’s not worth the effort trying to push my way through lines to see it. 

I like the first Clerks movie a lot as an angry amateur directorial debut by a young filmmaker who felt lost in his life. I’m not GenX but even I felt that emotion greatly in the years following college and the film still works as a testament to youthful anxiety and exhaustion with a world that doesn’t have much direction to offer you.

Sadly, the sequel Clerks II doesn’t earn that same level of earnestness and now it appears Clerks III has completely squandered the legacy of the original…

As Hollywood in Toto editor, Christian Toto writes, “Clerks III is a disaster, as painful as anything Smith has foisted upon us to date. And, given he previously directed Yoga Hosers, that’s quite a statement.” He continues, “What Smith really wants is to celebrate these characters and set them up for an increasingly maudlin story arc. There’s little interesting here, either, but it’s a respite from the forced antics and recreation of past Clerks scenes.” 

The film seems mostly to be a work of self-referential nostalgia, documenting Randall’s desire to shoot an indie movie at the QuickStop as a kind of meta-homage to the original Clerks film; a thematic ouroboros of self-satisfied masturbation. What sentimentalism the sequel may actually draw out appears to be buried within this husk of a dead movie.

One wonders if he might’ve benefitted from leaning into the religious symbolism of the first movie…

Smith’s work has always had a heavy layer of lapsed-Catholic guilt hanging over it. While he isn’t practicing and doesn’t seem to be interested in faith, he grew up a working-class Catholic and his complicated relationship with his faith has been explored multiple times, most notably in his famously blasphemous film Dogma—which skewers faith and meditates on the hypocrisies and contradictions inherent in salvation and the politics of the church. 

His late work like Yoga Housiers, Tusk, and Jay and Silent Bob Reboot stinks. They aren’t bad BECAUSE of the lack of religion obviously, but there doesn’t appear to be ANY drive or genuine emotion behind them. They’re just acts of nepotism for his friends and family without anything novel or inflammatory to say about the world, which is fascinating given that we live in a status quo where there is nothing BUT things to say about the world. One might consider how much his work might benefit from the youthful tension that made his breakout films so popular with mainstream film critics.

If I had been given permission to work with Kevin Smith as his script doctor, I would make it clear that he needs to lean farther into the metaphor he alluded to in his first Clerks film. The main character of the franchise is named Dante Hicks, and it follows a character trapped in the personal Hell of retail management. It captured a very real mood for GenX emotional frustration as thousands of working-class young people were exciting college and struggling to find relationships, careers, and families. They were trapped in a banal purgatory where their only consolation was playing sports with friends, sleeping in on days off, and debating the minutia of Star Wars

It’s been said that life is a marathon and not a race. And Kevin Smith has lived a busy life since his breakout film over 30 years ago. He has a family, a career as a celebrity, and several major life events—such as a recent life-threatening heart attack—behind him. He has gotten emotionally farther as an adult than he was when he was a teenager and yet his films are still emotionally stunted in a place of resistance. 

Clerks III could’ve been interesting. It could’ve been about the resolution of banality—about characters coming full circle from the frustration of the early parts of life, facing new challenges, and struggling with parenthood and mortgages. Instead, Clerks II’s ending made it clear that Smith was uninterested in maturity.

He wanted to lean into embracing nostalgia, banality, and meaninglessness and he appears to have made a film that accomplishes all three of those things. He could’ve made a movie about how love and struggle give meaning to life and help us grow out of youthful exhaustion. Instead, it appears he hasn’t made a movie worth seeing at all. 

Published by Tyler Hummel

Editor-in-Chief at Cultural Review, College Fix Fellow at Main Street Media, Regular Film Critic for Geeks Under Grace and the New York Sun, Published at ArcDigital, Rebeller, The DailyWire, Hollywood in Toto, Legal Insurrection and The ED Blog, Host of The AntiSocial Network Podcast

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