Now Showing: The Da Vinci Code

John Turner

There could scarcely be a more caustic film review than Anthony Lane's account of The Da Vinci Code in the New Yorker. But when read carefully, the piece reveals Lane's hostility to Dan Brown's novel more than it does dislike of the movie. The truth about the film is that it's neither particularly good nor particularly bad. If you're in the mood for mild entertainment on a lazy afternoon, The Da Vinci Code will serve well enough. But don't expect to see anything stupendous.

It's one of those films whose surroundings are more interesting than the artifact itself. The reason is it adds another episode to what will be a big fuss for at least the next century about whether the Christianity brought forth by the Church of the 4th Century, and which we now call Roman Catholicism, has been a good or an evil thing. The argument has much staying power because there's ample evidence on each side of the question. People can believe about it whatever they want because they can find powerful support for their own inclinations. In other words, the debate is emotionally potent and intellectually limp.

The issue the film purports to take up is whether Jesus liked women in a sexual way, and whether he "married" Mary Magdalene and fathered a child with her. The film asserts that there have always been people who knew he did, and that for the past sixteen hundred years the Catholic Church has been trying to suppress them.  This could have been seen as simply one more yarn, and not of much consequence, except that Dan Brown has made assertions that he knows it to be true. And, evidently, quite a few people have believed him.

Exactly why this is an issue that might turn the world on its head is never explained. The film, and evidently the novel, simply takes its explosive potential for granted.

The repressors in this story are operatives of Opus Dei, an actual organization within the Catholic Church composed of both priestly and lay members who number about eighty-eight thousand world wide. Many of them practice mortification of the flesh as a religious discipline, and this behavior is presented as lurid by Brown and by Ron Howard's movie. But here, the faithful go beyond mortification to murder, supposedly in an attempt to protect a church that is too innocent to protect itself. And therein hangs the tale.

Secret organizations, driven by fanatical men, working behind the scenes, are not a new device in melodrama. And in The Da Vinci Code, Opus Dei functions in standard Hollywood fashion. The most interesting character in the film is an Opus Dei monk named Silas who is also an accomplished hit man. In truth, he's about the only feature that raises the film above competent mediocrity. Maybe it matters to some filmgoers that Opus Dei, in real life, has no monks. But I can't be sure about that.

All the characters, including a Harvard professor of symbology, played by Tom Hanks, appear to believe that they're caught up in something bigger than big, which is apparently also what Dan Brown believes about himself. But why they think so is a bigger mystery than anything the priory of Zion, or the Knights Templars, or the questers after the Holy Grail, or Opus Dei has ever been involved in. But, still, as a movie, The Da Vinci Code is okay.

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