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The Da Vinci Code Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/05/2006

Why was Ron Howard’s adaptation (using a screenplay written by Akiva Goldsman) of author Dan Brown’s bestselling work of fictionThe Da Vinci Code…soooo controversial?  Entertainment Weekly recently named it the thirteenth most controversial movie of all time on their list of the 25 most controversial movies of all time.  Despite its flaws, I don’t consider it all that controversial…but since I’m not religious, that might be why.

It opens with a Louvre curator named Jacques Saunière (Jean-Pierre Marielle) trying to run away from an albino monk named Silas (Paul Bettany), who’s been killing off guardians of a secret society called the Priory of Sion (an organization pledged to protect the secret of Jesus Christ’s bloodline; Saunière was its grandmaster.)  Silas himself is a devotee of the ultra-conservative Catholic organization known as Opus Dei, who wants to keep the secrets of the Catholic Church secret.  When Silas was seven years old (Hugh Mitchell plays the young Silas), his father (Peter Pedrero) blamed his mother (Tina Maskell) for Silas being an albino, and he eventually killed her.  Silas killed his father in retaliation, and he later found refuge with a Spanish priest named Manuel Aringarosa (Alfred Molina), who later became a bishop, the worldwide head of Opus Dei, and a member of the Council of Shadows, a secret organization dedicated to the destruction of the Sangreal (The Holy Grail) and its bloodline.  Silas practices severe corporal mortification (he is seen using a metal cilice and flogging himself in front of a cross) to purify his soul (since he, you know, kills people.)  Anyway…Silas demands to know where the keystone (an engraved tablet containing the church’s secrets) is located.  Saunière lies and tells him that it is located at the Church of Saint-Sulpice beneath the Rose (a lie of a location agreed upon by four Priory Knights Templar in case they are caught), and Silas shoots him and leaves.  He later calls someone called “The Teacher” on the phone to tell him about the Saint-Sulpice location and then proceeds to flagellate himself.  Meanwhile, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is a claustrophobic Harvard professor of religious symbology who is in Paris, France giving a lecture called “Interpretation of Symbols” to promote his book, Symbols of the Sacred Feminine.  Police Lt. Jerome Collet (Etienne Chicot) of the Direction Centrale Police Judiciaire (the DCPJ, which is the rough equivalent of the U.S. FBI) contacts him after he has signed some autographs following the lecture.  He shows Langdon a photograph of a dead naked Saunière posed in the position of Da Vinci’s famous drawing, The Vitruvian Man, with a cryptic message written beside his body and a Pentagram drawn on his stomach in his own blood.  The reason why he shows Langdon this photo is because the professor was supposed to have met Saunière for drinks, but the curator never showed up, so he and special agent Captain Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) need his help in solving the murder, since the body has many weird clues next to it that Langdon might be able to interpret.  Langdon and Collet show up at the Louvre and meet with Fache, and Langdon sees that Saunière has created a complicated display using black light ink and his own body and blood.  French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), who happens also to be Saunière’s granddaughter, shows up, and helps him figure out the messages created by Saunière.  Sophie interrupts Langdon and tells him to check out a message that she has left on her voicemail.  When he calls it, he finds out from the message that Bezu suspects that he is the prime suspect in the murder, since Bishop Aringarosa previously called the agent and told him so (and since Bezu is also a member of Opus Dei.)  Robert and Sophie manage to evade Bezu and proceed to find several more clues left for them near Saunière’s body (the police are busy looking for Langdon, since he has gotten rid of the tracking device planted on him by Bezu.)  They find a key to a safety deposit box at the Paris branch of the Depository Bank of Zurich with a 10-digit number on it identifying the first eight numbers in a Fibonacci sequence.  They go to the bank and enter the numbers, which reveals a box containing a cryptex.  It’s a mechanism, which can be aligned in different ways, and must be set up to spell out a 5-letter code word in order to open and access a parchment message inside which surrounds a vial of vinegar (using force to open the cryptex will cause the vial to break and destroy the parchment.)  Andre Vernet (Jürgen Prochnow), the bank manager, helps them escape, and they head off to Robert’s former associate, wealthy Holy Grail historian Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian Mckellen), who believes that Christ was not a divine being, but rather a mere mortal who was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered her child.  Teabing tells them about the Priory, and that their finding supports his theory that the Holy Grail is not the chalice from the Last Supper, but rather Mary Magdalene herself.  Silas, who is already ticked off that the Saint-Sulpice location was a lie and has killed head nun Sister Sandrine (Marie-Françoise Audollent) who he thinks was mocking him, attacks the group, but is held back by Teabing’s bodyguard, Remy Jean (Jean-Yves Berteloot.)  They escape yet again, but while they attempt to find the underlying cause of the mystery, several conspirators get in their way in order to deprive them of the secret.

Let me list the reasons why the movie shouldn’t have been controversial.  First…it was rated PG-13.  Yes, there was a naked dead man (with genitalia carefully concealed) and an albino flagellating himself, but those things wouldn’t garner an R-rating.  Second…one of the “secrets” was that of the sacred feminine theory.  According to the stuff said by Teabing in the movie, women were getting too powerful, so the church conspired to suppress their power.  If this were true, I would be really ticked off at the church if I were a woman.  Are the religious groups who are opposed to this movie saying that women can’t have power?  Why not?  Third…and most important…as I stated before, this is a work of fiction!!  I can understand why the Christians and Jewish people might have been upset with The Passion of the Christ (which was number one on that EW list), because the events portrayed in that movie about the last day of Christ were true (at least according to the Bible and Mel Gibson), but graphically violent and possibly anti-Semitic.  Even a celebrity biopic exaggerates the facts in order to make that person’s life seem more cinematic.  Heck…even Howard’s Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind wasn’t the complete story of John Nash.  Since Code was always a work of fiction, and not a non-fiction expose of Christ and Mary Magdalene, then why do they care?  Did Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan really take Beethoven, Freud, Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Billy the Kid, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon from the past and party with them?  After all…those people were important figures in history…yet there was nothing controversial about 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and its attempt to have a little fun with them.  I think that if religious people calmed down a little sometimes, they might have less stress in their lives over whether or not a little movie will mean the fall of the Catholic Church.

Now…let’s get on with the more important issues…was it good as a movie?  Let’s just say that it was just okay.  It didn’t bore me…though it was a little long and it slowed down many times.  It was funny at the screening of it, since there was a point two hours in where a third of the screening audience started to leave because they thought that it was over (it is around the time when Fache makes a realization of his own about Langdon.)  If I hadn’t known that the movie was almost 2 ½ hours long, I would have thought that it was over as well (I usually stay until the end of the credits, so I wouldn’t have missed anything.)  If you are a fan of the book, you might be a little disappointed with the movie in the fact that there are no surprises.  I haven’t read it myself, but in the course of research for the movie, I practically got the Cliff’s Notes version of it, so the ending didn’t surprise me either.  Probably if you are a fan of Howard and Hanks, and you are curious about the movie and its surrounding controversy, you might enjoy it the best if you haven’t read the book already (or did any research about it.)  Speaking of Hanks…he did a decent job, but many other critics who have read the book said that he wasn’t the right person for the role.  My only concern initially was that I thought that it was going to be an action movie, since it looked similar in theme to 2004’s National Treasure, and as I love Hanks as an actor, I’ve never thought of him as an action star.  Since the movie had more dialogue and less action for a “thriller,” Hanks was passable (yes, I’ve heard the gripes about his hair, but I really couldn’t care less.)  Tatou was good, but I would love to see her do another comedy again, such as her infectious French 2001 hit Amélie.  McKellen stole the show, because he was the only character in the movie that had a sense of humor.

Now that the fervor has died down, and it has grossed $209.8 million domestically (the second highest of 2006) and $700.9 million worldwide (the highest of 2006) since its release (as of June 25, 2006), The Da Vinci Code has proven that controversy can sell movie tickets.  I liked it, but if I hadn’t seen it for free, I would have waited for it to come out on DVD.  If the book hadn’t existed, and if there hadn’t been any protests surrounding it, the movie might not have made the blockbuster status in the state it exists now.  Sony has already greenlit Angels & Demons, Brown’s book in the Robert Langdon trilogy (Code is the second book), and I’ve heard from several people that it is better than Code, so maybe I’ll like it better as a movie fan.


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