Despite poor reviews, Da Vinci phenomenon grows

By  Jim Beverly, Catholic Register Special
  • May 25, 2006

{mosimage}Finally, the buildup to The Da Vinci Code movie release is over and we can now dispense with speculation about its faithfulness to the famous novel by Dan Brown. All in all, the movie follows the novel quite faithfully, with all of its wild and erroneous claims about "real" history. And, the movie has no notice that it is based on a work of fiction. There is no disclaimer about the picture it presents of Opus Dei or of traditional Christian orthodoxy. However, it is quite significant that both Ron Howard and Tom Hanks played up the element of fiction in interviews, rather than bragging about Brown's alleged incredible research. Neither was inclined to give serious attention to the fact that the movie was advertised with the line: "seek the truth."

The movie opened this year's Cannes Film Festival. Generally, the critics have been very hard on it. At Cannes it was greeted with derision and laughter, and not laughter when the script called for it.

Anthony Quinn, writing in The Independent, opined that "nobody has cause to worry about this preposterous confection" and "what has ended up on screen is roughly as compelling as a bowl of wax fruit." A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times that this is "one of the few screen versions of a book that may take longer to watch than to read." He called the movie "busy" and "trivial." There have been a few positive reviews, most notably by Roger Ebert, but the consensus is overwhelmingly negative. Personally, I found the movie very slow early on and in its concluding scenes.

Of course, no critic is expecting the negative reviews to seriously halt box office sales. This means that Christians will have to continue to interact with the themes of the novel and the movie. The Da Vinci Code phenomenon is here for a while longer.

Some Christians have called for a boycott of the film. Barbara Nicolosi, a leading Catholic in the film industry, has called for an "othercott," protesting one film by going to another one. She urges Christians to choose DreamWorks animated feature Over the Hedge. Lots of Christians will choose this option.

Thankfully, the movie is not very successful in defending Brown's eccentric theories. Yes, Sir Leah Teabing (played superbly by Ian McKellen) argues for the existence of the Priory of Sion, the secret society that Brown claims started in 1099 and protects the bones of Mary Magdalene. (The Priory of Sion was actually started in 1956 by a notorious con-artist named Pierre Plantard). Yes, Teabing asserts that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, that they had a child, that Jesus' heirs became the first kings of France and that Leonardo da Vinci knew all this and more. However, the novel gives much more space for Teabing's character to present his case than he is allowed in the movie.

I found the movie far more disturbing in its portrait of Opus Dei. The description of the acts of mortification in the novel cannot compete with the powerful images of the movie. There we see Silas, the monk assassin, whipping himself mercilessly, blood flowing on his back, while the cilice cuts into his leg. Opus Dei members are going to spend the rest of their lives saying ""it is not really like that!"

After all the fuss about The Da Vinci Code, some of its fans just don't get it when it comes to understanding why Christians are upset with both the novel and the movie. The biggest factor here involves the issue of whether Brown is offering us fiction/entertainment or serious truth claims. Certain fans of the movie/novel basically say that Christian critics should "get a life... relax." After all "it's just fiction" or "it's just a movie." If only it were so. Brown has never repudiated his overall position that he has discovered the biggest coverup in history. His early interviews make him sound like a new convert to some cult.

He has been absolutely thrilled with himself for his new paradigm about the goddess Mary Magdalene, her lover Jesus and the early Jewish and Christian sex rituals. The novel trashes basic Christianity with sheer delight. Here goes the Bible. There goes the divinity of Jesus. No big deal? Yes, it is a big deal. All the fuss would end with one simple act: Brown should take page one out of the novel, the page where he asserts that "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." Until then, his own writing makes a mockery of his claim to be a Christian.

(Beverley is a professor of Christian Thought and Ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. He is the author of 10 books, including Counterfeit Code: Answering The Da Vinci Code Heresies.)

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