Would Da Vinci approve?
HANDS UP, I admit it, I was one of those who read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, loved it and believed it. As I read the last page, my mind was reeling from finding out that everything that had gone before was a huge conspiracy. We all love conspiracy theories and Ron Howard, the director of the film adaptation, appears to love them as well. His movie is so faithful to Dan Brown’s best-seller, that those who liked the book will probably like the movie. If you haven’t read the book, you will be a bit confused and wonder what all the fuss was about.
Initially, The Da Vinci Code whips along with the same page-turning speed as the novel, but with the same multiple-endings, it is a bit too long. Containing the same chunks of religious, historical and art exposition, the movie is also a bit too talky, though Howard does his best to disguise this by lingering on the gunplay, car chases and mad-monk murders.
Tom Hanks stars as Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of symbology, who is in Paris delivering a lecture and, in a diversion from Howard’s dogged, rather sombre adaptation of the book, he’s been given a case of claustrophobia, looks glum and a little lost. Langdon is implicated in the murder of a highly respected curator at the Louvre who, in his dying moments, managed to imitate Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man – his naked body lying on the floor, chest scrawled with a bloody pentagram, and he is the first step in a hunt that could crack open 2,000 years of Christian beliefs.
A police captain (Jean Reno) thinks Langdon is the killer and begins his pursuit of the professor. Langdon teams up with a French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), who set out to prove his innocence by unlocking the Holy Grail keystone, whose ‘’combination’’ is encoded in a series of churches and tombs. Robert and Sophie find refuge with Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen), an old friend of Robert’s, who is obsessed with the Holy Grail. And that’s just the first half.
The film’s sacred feminine premise, which provoked so much controversy, hasn’t been cut and remains the core of the movie’s murder-mystery framework, but, as the filmmakers have insisted all along, The Da Vinci Code is fiction and it’s hard to imagine how the film could shake anyone’s faith. Ultimately, The Da Vinci Code is an entertaining portrait of the ultimate cover-up, Christianity. It draws us into a web of puzzles and clues – Fibonacci number sequences and anagrams – that are grounded in tantalising artefacts from the real world. The piece of evidence that is most mystical, because we can all see and evaluate it, is Da Vinci’s 1498 mural of The Last Supper. Is that wilting feminine figure to Jesus’ right not the apostle John but, in fact, Mary Magdalene? And, if so, was she Jesus’ wife, the progenitor of his bloodline?
The book and film ‘reveal’ that the truth of Christianity, the facts of Jesus’ life, the nature of Christian faith and its links to pagan goddess worship, have been hidden for a millennium by the Catholic Church and by the Priory of Sion, a noble shadow cult whose famous members include Leonardo and Isaac Newton.
But the surprise, and disappointment, of The Da Vinci Code is how slipshod and unbelievable the religious detective story now seems. Howard fails to build intellectual excitement into the quest, tones down Langdon’s academic fervour, ratchets up his spirituality and turns him into a sceptic, who doesn’t believe that official Christianity is a lie. A soupcon of research reveals that the Priory of Sion is a hoax invented in 1956, and it cannot be proved that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were ever intimate, but what we want from the film is the fervour of belief.
RATING * * *