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Movie Review: The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code

There’s a deeply ingrained human fear that I don’t fully comprehend. And that’s the fear of being completely subsumed by another cultural identity, which is an outgrowth of the even more primal human fear of change.

This fear also seems to come up a lot in politics lately. Like if some guy comes up with a Spanish-language version of the American Anthem, then that’s one small step towards the entire country speaking Spanish. Or if gays get the right to marry, then suddenly every man in America will be forced to marry another man.

I could come up with a bunch more example (and I already have in my head), but I don’t want to get too political here. There’s a point, of course, where this fear is very practical, for example protecting democracy and freedom from fascist takeovers. But there’s also a point where fear becomes completely irrational, which is where I start to lose understanding in how it can be such a guiding force in people’s lives.

Dan Brown, of course, used that fear as a prime plot motivator for his book The Da Vinci Code. I assume most, if not all, people reading this have either read the book, seen the movie or have heard what the plot is, but I’m still going to tread lightly here. But the book revolves around a secret that will potentially end the reign of the Catholic Church and change the entire course of humanity, according to Dan Brown, at least.

I never bought that aspect of the book, which I read several months ago before it was even announced the film was being made. While I enjoyed it the puzzle/thriller aspect of the story, I thought that if the big “secret” was revealed in the world created in the novel, you know maybe some people would believe it and some people wouldn’t and, especially in this cynical world we live in now, most people really wouldn’t give a damn. I feel that way even if the big “secret” were true. I don’t think this concept would shake anybody’s belief and that the Church would simply have to adjust to a new religious paradigm. But, given the irrational fear of cultural subsumption, it is at least plausable that certain elements in the Church would behave in such a way as they do in the book and film.

And it’s that fear that would force the real world Church from seeking to “ban” people from seeing this film. Every couple of years there’s a film that the Church vehemently objects to, with the last two big ones being, I think, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and Jean Luc Godard’s Hail Mary. If you see any or all of these films, you’ll probably wonder what the hell all the fuss is about. If Catholicism can’t survive these somewhat silly films, then it has no business being a serious religion to begin with.

The Da Vinci Code, both the book and the film, while very enjoyable are, yes, a little silly, but that’s a good thing and adds something to the charm of the story. Ron Howard sounded like a strange choice to direct the film since he doesn’t usually do thrillers, except for the movie Ransom, which was just ok, and possibly The Missing, which I haven’t seen, but sounds thriller-ish even though it’s a Western.

What’s different here is that Ron Howard movies usually lock in on a strong main male character, like Mel Gibson in Ransom, Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man and Tom Hanks in Apollo 13. But Robert Langdon, the “hero” of The Da Vinci Code and played by Tom Hanks, is mostly buffeted through the film by outside forces and, arguably, the real main character here is policewoman Sophie Neveau played by Audrey Tautou. Robert Langdon is the one who has to decipher the little codes, but Sophie is the one who continually initiates the action and does most of the stunts. Langdon is a bit of a cipher and not a strong central hero. But this isn’t much of a complaint since while Tom Hanks does his typically good job in his role, it’s Audrey Tautou who is really a more pleasant force onscreen. The film also really lights up when Ian McKellen comes into the picture, which can be said for just about any movie he’s in.

Most of the fun of reading The Da Vinci Code was seeing the big “secret” slowly revealed, but even though most audiences will know what that secret is, whether they’ve read the book or have just heard the hype, Howard keeps the action tense. It’s a much darker film than what I’m accustomed to by Howard — and I haven’t seen his last couple of movies — and I was quite afraid that he and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman would “corny up” what should be a rather straightforward thriller. But Goldsman seems reigned in here for the good of the film. A real thriller writer may have really elevated the material into good, dark and spooky places, but the script as is does get the job done.