Saturday, May 20, 2006

First Impressions: "The Da Vinci Code" Corrects Some Howlers, Softens A Few Arguments, and Pushes a More Post-Modern Message Than the Book

I saw The Da Vinci Code last night.

First impressions . . .

In an attempt to be overly literal and faithful to the book, Howard has bought into the idea that long sections of the movie must be filled with exposition rather than action. Those expecting the movie to flow like the page-turner that was the book will be disappointed. Evidently in an attempt to placate SOME of the Christian objections, numbers of the historical errors are eliminated (e.g. speaking of the loan word "koinonos" in the Gnostic Nag Hammadi Coptic library as an "Aramaic" word for spouse; claiming that the Dead Sea Scrolls relate to Christ; alleging that the Nicean "vote" on the "deity of Christ" was a "close one at that" when only 2 of the 318 delegates refused to sign the anti-Arian creed; the reduction of the number of women "murdered" by the church as witches from several millions to 50,000).

A few details in the story line are changed to fit the format of a movie (e.g., compression in the museum scene and in the concluding chapel sequence); others are altered to flow better (e.g., the relationship between the Opus Dei bishop and the Vatican).

However, my biggest surprise came in the strange shift near the end of the movie. Brown may be guilty of a lot of things, but faking belief in his neo-pagan, neo-Gnostic twaddle is not one of them. Throughout the novel, the reader gets the idea that the author truly believes in his "divine feminine," "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," Constantinian conspiracy theories. This impression gets enforced by the first word of the book: Fact.


But, at the hands of Ron Howard, the result becomes more-or-less a post-modern morality tale. Whether or not you truly believe that Sophie is the heir of Jesus Christ or not is not so much a matter of empirical historical truth as bald existential decision. As Langdon tells Sophie in the movie: "Maybe it's all true. Maybe the human is the divine. All that matters is what you believe." As she dangles her foot on top of a pond proving that this daughter of Jesus cannot walk on water, she speculates that maybe she will be better at the "water into wine" part. Truth means whatever it means to you and, who knows, it could be true for you.

The neo-pagan verities and Christianity-challenging certainties of The Da Vinci Code novel seem to dissolve into a relativistic soup in the movie. Yes, you get the idea that the church is against women, full of murdering zealots, really into ascetic masochism, and predicated on a pack of lies. Yes, you hear that Jesus married Mary of Magdala and sired a daughter, Sarah. But, you try to follow the dialogue between Langdon and Sophie near the end. Sheesh! Talk about fuzzy!


Brown's hard-edged propaganda for the Elaine Pagels school of biblical revisionism becomes more like a typical Hollywood exhibition of relativism and radical doubt. In place of the worship of the divine feminine and exaltation of neo-pagan Gnostic notions, we have the genial Hanks speculating about unknowable religious beliefs and advising Sophie that whatever you believe is OK. "Maybe human is divine," he opines cluelessly.

Amazingly, our current culture can swallow the whopper that Jesus was never believed to be divine until a Roman emperor imposed it. However, while Jesus is merely mortal, Mary Magdalene is divine and worthy of our worship. The movie ends with its own version of a blasphemous reversal of Philippians 2 as even a skeptical Harvard professor finally bows his knee at the tomb of Mary, offering his worship and adoration (?).

Bottom line: the historical howlers are often expunged; the recognition that people do differ on these theories is introduced (principally through Hanks' Langdon); yet, the heresy remains in tact, including the ultimate lie that while Jesus is only human, Mary is divine. However, the possibility of doing genuine mischief with the minds and hearts of the unconvinced has been softened slightly in this somewhat plodding adaptation of Brown's novel.

1 comment:

C.Stephen said...

Good points in this Dennis. I think what concerns me most about the book and movie is that people will use it as an excuse for doubt without doing the follow up. I suppose that by talking to people about the book and exposing the errors, including the gross ones that you mentioned, one could use the movie as an opportunity to show the reliability of our Bible and the good reasons we have for believing in the historicity of the canonical Gospels. What man meant for evil (or profit) perhaps God means for good.