Ron Howard's two hour and 29 minute adaptation of Dan Brown's mega-selling thriller "The Da Vinci Code" has now hit the big screen to mostly negative reviews (see www.rottentomatoes.com). Having read some thirty criticisms of the movie I was prepared for this movie to be a bomb. Actually, its not. It stands up rather well as a suspensful movie, and it is not the case that there are long boring discussions of ancient lore in this movie.
In fact there is only one major debate or discussion in the movie where Leigh Teabing disputes the traditional interpretations about Jesus' divinity and insists he was married and had children, things which Robert Langdon takes some objection to, calling them just theories, and a rearranging of the facts to suit such theories. Those looking for major discussions about the Gospel of Philip or Mary should abandon hope. They are only really mentioned in one scene and are not given much play at all. Nor is the theory that Constantine invented Christianity and imposed it on the Empire really given the time of day either. This is in fact disputed by Langdon in the movie. Ron Howard seems to have had enough sense to know when enough is enough. The story is much more about Opus Dei vs. the mythical Priory of Sion, one seeking to suppress the truth about Jesus' marriage and offspring, the other vowed to protect the secret and protect Jesus' descendents. Nor are we regaled with long problematic assertions about the Divine Feminine, though the subject comes up. though infrequently in the movie.
For those who have not read the book, or much if anything about Opus Dei, this movie will raise more questions than it answers. My son, who has not read the novel, went with us to the movie and he felt there was not nearly enough explanation of who they were and why they were so concerned about Mary Magdalene. The movie, like the book, of course exploits the fact that there have indeed been cover-ups in church history, and indeed there have been lives taken to protect some alleged dangerous secrets. More than Jesus or the canon being on trial in this movie, it is rather mainly the Roman Catholic Church, its asceticism, and its passion mysticism that is on trial here, with the albino monk of Opus Dei representing all that is loathsome about religious fanatics, especially those who are mentally unstable.
In a surprise at the end of the movie Langdon tells the story of how he prayed to Jesus to be rescued from a fall into a well, and of course he lived to tell the tale, though the adult Langdon is prepared to settle for a Jesus who merely inspires good things in others. Jesus is not the adversary here, though his divinity is denied by Teabing. What is missing of course in the whole discussion is the fact that Jesus' full humanity is in no way a threat to his divinity. Indeed even if he was married this need not have been problematic for a belief in his divinity.
Audrey Tatou's portrayal of Sophie Nouveau is well done. She does indeed come across as a woman with secrets and a troubling upbringing which she has tried to repress and overcome. And Tom Hanks though be starts off in rather Stoic or wooden fashion is believable as a professorial type not apt to willingly become the hero of a conspiracy or murder investigation. Paul Bettany as the mad monk Silas is positively demonic in some scenes and repulsive in his self-flagellating mode as well. Ian McKellen (aka Gandalf) is marvelous as the mad hatter Teabing, and the supporting cast is good as well. Han's Zimmer's score is well done (cf. the Gladiator score) which preserves an air of forboding and brooding darkness throughout the film. It adds to the ambiance of the film.
This is a dark movie, but the "con of man" in this movie is not one perpetrated by the church about Jesus and his real nature, but rather one foisted on a Biblically illiterate public large numbers of which seem naive enough to believe the hysterical fiction in Brown's novel. It is a good thing that various critics, and to his credit Tom Hanks as well, have seen through this ruse. Hanks plays his role with one eyebrow raised most of the time--- good for him. This movie will still raise some other eyebrows as well, and raise some questions about the truthfulness of the church about its heritage. It is my hope that this will lead to candid discussion about the real Jesus, and the real story about what the early church believed about his humanity and divinity, long before Constantine was ever born. Surprisingly enough at my advance showing, the house was not even full. Nor was there much reaction from the audience at all, and hardly any applause at the end. This is not your typical fun summer thriller. It is too dark for that, but it may at least raise some interesting questions for those really trying to puzzle out the religious mysteries involved.
GUIDE TO CHRISTIAN VIEWERS
This movie is not appropriate to bring: 1) young children to-- the violence and self-flaggelations scenes involving Silas the monk are too much for the young; 2) likewise this movie is going to raise numerous questions for people not well grounded in their faith, especially those of Roman Catholic background. I am not urging them to see it either. 3) Those who know the Bible, but not much about church history (including modern church history-- e.g. what is Opus Dei) are not going to be able to dialogue with the inquisitive about this movie very well since it is more about church history than it is about anything in the Bible itself. In particular those who know little or nothing about the Council of Nicea, the mythical Priory of Sion, the Gnostic Gospels, or the formation of the canon will be ill-prepared for the discussions this movie may raise. It would be better to do a little homework before or after seeing this movie if one wants to use it to have a dialogue about the Christian faith with Da Vinci Code fans. 4) there are certainly some things in this movie, especially those that come out of the mouth of Teabing, and some of the actions of the Catholic bishop and his lacky the monk which any Christian should and will find disturbing. There is really not a single positive portrayal of a devout Christian in this movie, and that in itself is disturbing in a movie that is so much about the history of Christianity. Christian audiences therefore should be cautious, and come prepared to thinking critically about the movie if you go.