The History Place - Movie Review

The 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 at Cannes.

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.

Jim Castagnera, a Philadelphia journalist and lawyer, is the Associate Provost at Rider University and author of the weekly newspaper column Attorney at Large.

The Da Vinci Code - Official Website
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