Da Vinci Code
By Jim Castagnera
Special to The History Place
Following the 149 minutes of The Da Vinci Code, my first impulse
was to ask, "So why all the fuss?" The film on its face is
a fair enough mystery/thriller, complete with a half-mad, self-flagellating
albino-monk turned serial killer named Silas. When Silas isn't flogging
his own back bloody, he has the habit (no pun intended) of popping up
unexpectedly in the midst of the film's quietest moments. In true thriller
fashion, he made me jump in my seat a time or two.
As for the mystery part of this genre piece, I found the central 'facts'
that Mary Magdalene was Mrs. J.C. and that one of the film's stars is
their direct descendant a bit anti-climactic. No wonder the audience
whistled and hooted during this part of the movie when it premiered
So why the big fuss about The Da Vinci Code, anyway? Well, this
so-so mystery/thriller is actually an affront to the central tenet of
Christian faith: that Jesus is divine--the one, the only, Son of God.
Director Ron Howard, a certified nice guy since his Andy of Mayberry
days, tries to soften the insult by having Hollywood's second-nicest
guy, Tom Hanks, tell his co-star, "All that matters is what you
believe." Thus The Da Vinci Code book, and now movie, has
inspired a good deal of conservative Christian outrage.
A second, smaller, but equally vocal group to think The Da Vinci
Code is a big deal are historians. But in their zealotry to debunk
novelist Dan Brown's bowdlerization of historical fact, they miss the
point that he is in fact a pop artist--a singer-songwriter and co-author
with his wife of two humor books. Supposedly, he once read a Sidney
Sheldon thriller while on vacation and said to himself, "I can
do better than that."
Now readers of a certain age, such as myself, will recall popular
titles such as If the South Had Won the Civil War. Books like
this employ a technique called extrapolation--simply asking 'what if?'
Dan Brown uses this intriguing technique in The Da Vince Code
asking what if time and time again. What if the somewhat effeminate-looking
young fellow seated to Christ's right in Da Vinci's Last Supper fresco
was really a young female? What if Jesus and Mary Magdalene were a New
Testament item and even had a couple of kids together? And what if a
secret society, descended from the Knights Templar has been engaged
in a centuries-long struggle with a more conservative core of the Catholic
Church, today exemplified by the Opus Dei organization? Well, that might
just make for a Sidney-Sheldon beater, mightn't it?
The film's (and novel's) third group of critics are the folks who
read that Brown's book has sold 60 million copies since it leapt onto
The New York Times bestseller list two years ago and that Brown
apparently has earned some $250 million. The ranks of the jealous are
lead by authors whose works already covered much of The Da Vinci
Code's territory. Add to that, Ron Howard's film enjoyed the second-largest
box office debut in Hollywood history.
Of course, the great irony, the great dilemma, for all three groups
of detractors is that the more they point and shout, the more folks
flock to read the book and now to see the movie. Ron Howard must be
grinning all the way to the bank, following in the footsteps of Dan
Brown, who, by the way, is billed as an executive producer.
But if you're like me, none of the above, then you might consider
seeing The Da Vinci Code for the shear fun of it. Its ideas are
intriguing, if (sadly) its salient 'facts' are untrue. And, in sharp
contrast to such frantic cinematic excursions into Biblical lore as
the Indiana Jones epics, Howard's movie takes the time to linger
over gorgeous shots of the London and Paris scenery, and to allow its
stellar cast to ponder the mysteries and the clues that confront them.
These are some of the plus sides to the film's very slow pacing.
That is, until friend Silas leaps once more from the shadows to cause
them, and us, to leap in alarm.
Rated PG 13 - For language and scenes of violence.