Monday, May 29, 2006

Movie Review: The Da Vinci Code

A presenter on a radio program recently described The Da Vinci Code as containing nothing new and nothing true. As far as the so-called facts in the movie go, that is absolutely true. What Dan Brown, who is the author of the book the movie is based on, has done is to wrap the so-called facts in a ripping conspiracy yarn that is full of intrigue leaving us thinking even after the movie is over. The movie needs to be evaluated on two levels. Firstly, as a piece of entertainment and, secondly, for the historical accuracy of the "facts" presented in the story. On the level of entertainment, The Da Vinci Code works reasonably well. The almost 2-and-a-half hours goes by pretty quickly. The film is very faithful to the book, so if you have read the book, there is absolutely nothing unexpected. You'll know the ending and the plot never deviates from that of the novel. And this is the downfall of the movie for those who know the story. There are no surprises and very little suspense. But, from what I can gather from those who have seen the movie but not read the book, it is intriguing, suspenseful, and a thrilling journey. For those of you who haven't caught up with the plot yet (where have you been?!), Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is a symbologist who is called to the Louvre to help in the investigation of a murder where the body is covered in esoteric symbols. Clues on the body and in Da Vinci's paintings lead Langdon and Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), a police cryptographer who warns Langdon that his life is in danger, on a rollercoaster trail as they uncover a religous secret that, if revealed, could lead to the demise of Christianity as we know it. Hanks and Tautou's acting is pretty shallow -- there is next to no character development in the movie except for that which directly supports the plot. We are led from one clue to the next without much time to take a breath and the journey is interspersed with characters sharing various points of religious history, esoteric philosophy, and interpretations of symbols that begin to reveal what is really going on. All in all, it's a reasonable piece of pulp fiction that wiles away a few hours and leaves one asking a whole lot of questions about religion and, in particular, Christianity. That's the movie... Now, what about the historical facts? There is no doubt that Dan Brown is promoting a revisionist history of Christianity. The ideas that are presented in the movie are not new. Various people have written on these matters before. I won't share his conclusions here in case you have managed to avoid hearing the ending of the story. The point to make here, however, is that the alleged facts are mostly complete nonsense without any evidence to support them. This would not be a problem if people just watched the movie (or read the book) as a piece of purely entertaining fiction. But many don't. Some people actually think that Dan Brown is presenting a significant alternative history of Christianity. It might be alternative but it is not significant. The significance is a fabrication of the interest in the alternative rather than any substance in the theory. A couple of examples will hopefully suffice in demonstrating how poor Dan Brown's history is (examples are taken from the book):
  1. Dan Brown has one of his characters say that 'the Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan emperor Constantine the Great.' This is pure fiction. Constantine had nothing whatever to do with collating the Bible. The canon, as we know it today, took centuries to form and was the result of debate and consensus of church leaders -- never an imperial decree. The most he did was authorise the copying and distribution of fifty Bibles but there were no significant differences between these and and what had been produced before.
  2. One of the most important "facts" presented by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code is the assertion that the New Testament has omitted Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene. In reality, there is not a shred of evidence that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. This is pure speculation.
  3. The Da Vinci Code represents the Catholic organisation Opus Dei as a monastic order. In fact, it is not -- it doesn't have monks and it is lay-oriented.

I could go on. The point is, to rely on The Da Vinci Code to make true statements about history is misplaced trust.

In summary: The Da Vinci Code is entertaining fiction -- not reliable history.

My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

Positive Review

'Ron Howard's splendid The Da Vinci Code is the Holy Grail of summer blockbusters: a crackling, fast-moving thriller that's every bit as brainy and irresistible as Dan Brown's controversial bestseller.' - Lou Lumenick/New York Post

Negative Review

'The Catholic Church has nothing to fear from this film. It is not just tripe. It is self-evident, spirit-lowering tripe that could not conceivably cause a single member of the flock to turn aside from the faith.' - Anthony Lane/The New Yorker

Content Warning

disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material, brief drug references and sexual content

Related Links

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Trapped with Dr. X (Christianity Today Magazine)

Daniel Dennett has recently published a book entitled Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena. Christianity Today has published a review by John Wilson essentially arguing that the "spell" that Dennett wants to break doesn't really exist. You can read the complete review here.

The Christianity Today Book Awards 2006

Christianity Today has published its book awards for 2006. You can check out the list and read reviews here. Looks like we've got some more good reading to do!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Death by Da Vincititis (Butterflies and Wheels)

R Joseph Hoffmann's article Death by Da Vincitits is a scintillating commentary on the obsession with Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. That won't stop me from reviewing the movie on Sunday (when I finally get to see it)! Check out Hoffmann's article here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Book Review: The Quest for God

The subtitle of Paul Johnson's book, The Quest for God, is more relevant to its contents. It is subtitled A Personal Pilgrimage -- and that is just what the book is. Paul Johnson is a leading British historian who was born into a Roman Catholic family and has remained a practising Catholic. Johnson does not hide the fact that his book is a personal journey. But he clearly wants to make Christianity attractive and reasonable to the average reader. The first few chapters are the better ones where he shares his reasons for writing the book ('partly to help myself, partly to help other people'). He wants to 'resolve many doubts in [his] own mind, to clarify [his] thoughts and to try to define what God means to [him] and [his] life.' In doing this, he hopes that his book will help 'others to straighten out' their beliefs. Johnson describes his book as a meditation rather than a manual or an attempt at proselitysing. His second chapter explores the reasons for belief in God surviving in the world against all odds. His third chapter focuses on 'the total, and in many cases abject, failure of the alternatives to God.' In a sense, Johnson arrives at the reality of God because there are no viable alternatives. As Johnson proceeds, he tackles some of the toughest questions facing Christians: who God is; the issue of divinity, gender, and sex; the relationship of humans to the natural world; suffering and evil; and so on. As Johnson proceeds, the discussion becomes increasingly saturated with unique Catholic beliefs such as the so-called immaculate conception of Mary; prayer to Mary and the saints; purgatory; prayers for the dead; and the nature of Hell. For someone like me, coming from within a Protestant tradition, Johnson's point of view became increasingly distanced from mine. It was interesting to hear about Catholic belief from a Catholic writer. But it was harder and harder to identify with his point of view. Given that Johnson explicitly states that his book is a meditation on his own journey, this is not a problem. It provides a fascinating insight into Catholicism and the reasons for some of the doctrines that Protestants have rejected since the Reformation. The book won't be enjoyed by everyone. And it doesn't have the apologetic power of a writer like C S Lewis. It is good to listen to other people's stories and try to understand the world view that they inhabit. In that sense, this book has value. But it won't be a book for everyone. In the end, Johnson may have sorted out his own ideas by writing the book. But it didn't do that for me.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The forward march of women halted? (openDemocracy)

Many times I hear people say that women are finally equal and that the concerns of feminism are behind us. Is that true? Fred Halliday draws up the balance sheet around the world and it is not all good for all women ... Read the article here

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Movie Review: Mission Impossible III

The new Mission Impossible III is exactly what it should be ... fast, furious, action-packed, tense, violent, incredible special effects, and totally unbelievable! Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has to battle an evil criminal (the brilliant John Seymour Hoffman) while keeping his identity hidden to save his wife (Keri Russell). This time, even his own organisation is after him! Of course, you know that, against all odds, he succeeds... but the excitement is in the journey and how he does. This is most definitely the best Mission Impossible movie so far. The action and suspense don't let up for a minute. The violence is a little gruelling and nasty at times and the movie is darker than previous episodes. But if you are a Mission Impossible fan you won't want to miss this one. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'Yes, it's fundamentally business as usual, but it's the best kind of business as usual, and it finds everyone working in top form. Abrams imports and enlarges "Alias'" smooth, stylish, yet remarkably visceral approach to action, and the actors pack a satisfying amount of drama into the moments between action scenes.' - Keith Phipps/The Onion (A.V. Club) Negative Review 'Aside from a single jazzy image of Hunt taking a nosedive off a Shanghai skyscraper, Abrams' movie is too oppressive, too enamored of its brutality to deliver anything like real thrills; its deeply unpleasant tone nearly makes you long even for Woo's cartoon absurdities.' - Rob Nelson/Dallas Observer Content Warning Intense sequences of frenetic violence & menace, disturbing images & some sensuality

Monday, May 01, 2006

U.S. religious leaders seek God's help -- to reduce the spiralling cost of gas

Here's an interesting one... The GlobeandMail report that a group of religious leaders were to meet in Washington on 27 April to pray for lower petrol prices. I wonder if they had their prayers answered. It's interesting to think about what God would need to do to answer a prayer like this in the affirmative! You can read the whole story here.

Unraveling The Da Vinci Code (

The Da Vinci Code is about to hit our cinema screens. Although the book is fiction, the ideas presented by the characters in the book are promoted by other literature as being a viable alternative history of Christianity to the traditional/orthodox one. Kenneth Boa and Bill Ibsen have produced a 1 hr 49 min DVD exploring and critiquing the ideas behind The Da Vinci Code which can be purchased. However, if you would like to view the DVD online for free, you can click here and watch it with Windows Media Player.