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

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