(2009) The events of this fast-paced, action-dominating-actors thriller, directed by Ron Howard and adapted from Dan Brown's novel, take place in a single day and before the later adventures of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) in The Da Vinci Code.
What may appear as appeasement in exchange for cooperation, screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldman did not intentionally obscure or suppress aspects of the novel's undercurrent of anti-Catholicism as concessions to Church authorities in order for the filmmakers to gain access to Church properties. "Requests to film on location in Santa Maria del Popolo and Santa Maria della Vittoria, churches that are homes to paintings by Caravaggio, sculptures by Bernini and a chapel designed by Raphael, were refused," noted Elisabetta Povoledo in The New York Times. "We give authorizations to productions that are compatible with religious sentiment," Povoledo quoted the Rev Marco Fibbi, a spokesman for the Rome diocese. "With Dan Brown's books this problem exists."
A private jet is waiting to transport Langdon from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the Vatican in Rome, says a member of the Vatican police, showing the professor an ambigraphic symbol while emphasizing "a matter of great urgency." Following the death of Pope Celestine V, as the Vatican prepares for the conclave to elect the next Vicar of Christ, four cardinals - the preferiti (favorites for becoming the next pontiff) - have been kidnapped, and according to a letter from the Illuminati (an ancient secret society of scientists and mathematicians dedicated to exposing the Church's inaccurate teachings and bent on retribution for La purga of 1668 when some of its members were branded and executed), each will be assassinated in turn on the hour from 8pm until midnight when "Vatican City will be consumed by light."
Additionally at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) outside Geneva, Switzerland, where CERN scientists have produced a quantity of antimatter, Silvano Bentivoglio (Carmen Argenziano) has been murdered and the precious canister of "the God particle" stolen. Silvano's colleague Dr Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), Italian bio-physicist, teamed up with Langdon (who appears to be completely oblivious to his partner's attractive female qualities), explains that the antimatter in the canister will remain suspended only until midnight after which when the battery fails the resulting contact with matter will destroy the Vatican and a large portion of Rome. "Science obliterates religion," sums up Langdon.
The Harvard professor rapidly interprets allusions from the letter ("We will destroy your four pillars, brand your preferiti and sacrifice them") into a plan of action, but first he needs access to the Vatican's archives. In charge during sede vacante (the period until a new pope is chosen) Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor), a priest who as an orphan from the age of nine was raised by the deceased pope when an archbishop, before granting permission demands to know from Langdon (who has previously had an "entanglement with the Church") if he believes in God. "Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive," Robert replies.
Figuring out another riddle ("503" in Roman numerals is "DIII"), with Vittoria (taking the role of former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger) he locates Galileo's Diagramma della Veritā (Diagram of Truth) with a watermark in English, providing another trail of clues. Along with Inspector Ernesto Olivetti and Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgärd) of the Swiss Guard, in search of Santi's (Raphael's) tomb, the pair race off to the Pantheon then after realizing their mistake to the Chigi chapel in the Church of the Santa Maria del Popolo with its pyramids and "the demon's hole" to find, minutes late, the first cardinal branded on the chest, his mouth filled with earth and rats chewing on his face. (At 8pm the scene has too much sunlight.)
Nevertheless, Langdon has found the scent and the sense of the signs: "The path is alive." At the next three sites, each in turn with a representation of air, fire, and water, sculpted by the great 17th-century artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini- a bas-relief of the West Wind in St Peter's Square, the magnificent Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, and the Four Rivers Fountain in the center of Piazza Navona - victims are found having been subjected to torture and execution appropriate to the elementary elements by the Assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas).
As well during the interim of these events, Langdon and a Vatican guard get trapped in the hermetically-sealed archives while the oxygen supply is shut off; Silvano's journals are sent to Vittoria, but when she goes with the Camerlengo to inspect the corpse of the Holy Father for signs of a tinzaparin overdose, Commander Richter removes them; and the Great Elector Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl) refuses the Camerlengo's repeated pleas to break the conclave and evacuate the Vatican for safety.
There will be a fifth branding and an astonishing finale (though not nearly as amazing and miraculous as in the book), involving reversals of expectations.
Among Brown's errors (both in the book and film), Pope Celestine should have been the VI, not the V. In 1294 Pietro da Morrone was elected pope, taking the name Celestine V, by the Papal election, 1292-1294, the last non-conclave in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, since recognized by the Church as a saint.
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