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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Da Vinci Code

Duh Vinci Code is brain-free summertime escapism

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 20, 2006 -- “The Da Vinci Code” is one of those action adventure movies like the “Indiana Jones” series that combine dubious archaeology, history and outlandish adventure. It is also very similar in that regard to “Sahara,” “The Mummy” and “National Treasure.” This is the latest in a long series of cinematic Holy Grail hunts. Similarities between this and those other films are evident, especially in one scene where someone, following a series of esoteric clues, smashes a hole in the floor of a church to recover an artifact. This scene seems to have been copied directly from a scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

In this film, Robert Langdon, (played by Tom Hanks of “Catch Me If You Can”) is implicated in a murder of a museum curator. He is inexplicably aided by a Paris policewoman, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou of “Amélíe”). These two then manage to inexplicably elude the entire French police force for the rest of the movie while simultaneously conducting an international search for the Holy Grail. The movie hints the two may receive divine aid in their quest. Their main pursuer is the determined Paris Police Captain Fache (Jean Reno of “Ronin”).

In addition to the police, Langdon and Neveu are being shadowed by two opposed secretive societies, one group, headed by Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina of “Spider-Man 2”) and a crazed, murderous monk, Silas (Paul Bettany of “Firewall”) belongs to a Roman Catholic sect called Opus Dei. The Opus Dei group is trying to destroy the Holy Grail because it is seen as a threat to the Catholic Church. The other secret society is the Priory of Sion, dedicated to protecting the Holy Grail. Yet a third party in these conspiratorial machinations is the wealthy, eccentric scholar Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen of “The Lord of the Rings” movies). Teabing seems to belong to neither Opus Dei nor the Priory of Sion. He wants to find the grail to satisfy his own obsession.

There are some interesting plot twists in the film (based on a popular book by Dan Brown). I found the story to be compelling and it held my attention throughout. The plot is far-fetched, and over 40 books have been written exposing the many historical inaccuracies in Brown's book. The movie addresses some of these criticisms, cleverly deflecting them without really arguing details. Despite the hard-to-swallow plot, I found this film more believable than similar films such as “The Mummy” movies, “Sahara,” “National Treasure” or the “Indiana Jones” movies. Of course, that's not saying much. Those movies all stretch believability way past the breaking point.

The difference seems to be that nobody claims there's any real historical or religious accuracy in those other films, but Dan Brown claims The Da Vinci Code is based on fact, and about a third of the people who read the book buy into these alleged facts. That's why those other movies haven't spawned a lot of books disputing their accuracy. The filmmakers never claimed any accuracy in the first place. Maybe they should have. Then they could have benefitted from a lot of free publicity, like “The Da Vinci Code” has.

I don't buy Brown's thesis and many of his alleged facts are wrong. There are some facts in the film, but most of it is pure baloney. The book and the film are far-fetched works of fiction. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy a good adventure yarn like this, or the other similar movies mentioned above. By way of comparison, I'd say “The Da Vinci Code” is as good a film as “The Mummy” or “National Treasure” and it is better than “Sahara” or “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” It is not as good as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

The appeal of the book and film, I think, has to do with people's fascination with conspiracy theories. “The Da Vinci Code” is filled with shadowy conspirators, much like an episode of “The X Files.” People seem to believe a lot of ridiculously complex conspiracy theories, from the supposed U.S. government-backed assassination of John Kennedy, to a government cover-up of space aliens, to faked lunar landings, to covering up the truth behind the 9-11 attacks. People can't seem to get enough of these wacky theories. These theories are the perfect opiate to keep the great masses of people distracted, placated, docile and easily manipulated. Besides that, they are a waste of time and energy.

The movie has a tinge of paganism, including pagan rituals conducted by the Priory of Scion. The camera lingers on pagan symbols in churches and other buildings, such as gargoyle-like “green men.” A Robert Langdon book featured in the film is all about pagan beliefs in “The Goddess,” a symbol of feminine power and fertility. Christianity, like Judaism before it, is a heavily masculine religion, treating women like chattel. Early on Christianity adapted itself to appeal to some pagans by elevating Mary, mother of Christ, to near god-like status, very much like the feminine goddesses of the pagans. In all the talk of feminine pagan symbols in the film, the virgin Mary, the most obvious Christian equivalent to a pagan goddess, isn't mentioned at all.

The film also includes a brief discussion about the Gnostic gospels, such as the gospel according to Mary Magdalene (recently, the Gospel according to Judas was re-discovered), but no discussion of the disputed origin of these writings. There is some discussion about targeted church suppression of selected gospel writings that portrayed Jesus in a less than divine light. The film also has a brief discussion of the council of Nicea, where the divinity of Christ was established as official church doctrine. This is not the sort of thing you expect to hear outside of a religious history course (which is where I first heard about it). If you are really interested in the gnostic gospels, some of them can be found online, and numerous books of various levels of scholarship have been written about them. Ditto for the Council of Nicea.

These sorts of religious history discussions are kept to a minimum, but the film still bogs down a bit at times as it expounds on its fanciful alternate history of the Christian church. Despite that, the mystery aspect of the movie worked well enough to keep me interested until the end, especially with the plot twists. The acting is fairly minimal as most of the actors don't change expression much in this film. The exception is Ian McKellen, who gives a wonderfully over-the-top campy performance. McKellen helps give the movie a slight humorous edge that, together with the occasional wry touch by Hanks, makes the film much more palatable. With a story this grim, you need all the humor you can get. This film rates a B.

P.S. much has been written about Tom Hank's hairdo in this film. Yes, I can confirm his hair is longer than it usually is. So what? Why so many people are given to writing about non-substantive issues like this? What does this say about the quality of discourse about this film?

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2006 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)