Who wants to see a blockbuster that -- despite critical pans -- made 77 million dollars last weekend? Who wants their faith put to the test? Lastly, who wants to see Tom Hanks with long, lanky hair?
Well, good for you. You're in good company. Despite some unhappy critics, and a bunch of protestors, and a boycott, The Da Vinci Code made some serious buckaroos this weekend. I, personally, haven't seen a Sunday matinee so packed for some time. Apparently, a whole bunch of people planned out their day thusly: "Honey, let's go to church. Then let's get some brunch. Then, let's go see The Da Vinci Code!"
It's a strange film. It has a lot of people up in arms, a lot of people interested, and many people just plain confused. I'll put myself rather in the latter camp -- not due to the film's plot, but due to people's incredibly varied reactions to the film and its ideas. And before I go off on a couple tangents, let me say that I don't think this was a bad film at all -- it was perfectly entertaining and competent, if imperfect. If you liked the book, you'll probably like the film, though I doubt any Oscar crowns will sit on Hanks' luscious locks for this one.
I don't think I'll be giving anything away (unless you've been living under a whole pile of rocks for the last three years; as I don't think there're a lot of Morlocks in the RevolutionSF reading audience, I'm probably safe on this) if I note that the whole schtick with the book is that the Catholic church is trying to cover up a colossal, faith-blowing secret: that Jesus Christ was actually married, to Mary Magdalene, and that the "holy grail" (san greal) actually refers to the "royal blood" (sang real) – i.e. Christ's living descendants.
Apparently, this is not a new idea. Conspiracy theorists and such have tossed around these concepts for some time. The theory involves playing a bit fast and loose with history, but such is the conspiracy theorist's prerogative -- though we might note that the people spouting this stuff, Dan Brown included, tend to approach it rather as Gospel Truth than as an interesting conjecture (as my friend Jason pointed out).
Dan Brown, however, managed to put this theory into a nicely paced, clearly written, action/adventure book -- a book that I myself greatly enjoyed as some pleasurable vacation reading. Hence, the public gets interested -- which no doubt has some conspiracy theorists who produced badly written, more academic books thirty years ago ticked off. And ready to sue Dan Brown's toes off (socks just aren't sufficient here). Oh, wait, that happened at least twice last week . . . .
But, despite this idea's lack of newness, the film has some people really ticked off. Certainly the idea has gotten a lot more press and exposure due to Brown's book and this film. And, in any religion, there're going to be some people who don't like to see the accepted plotline of their religious figure messed with. Try saying that Muhammad went to Hollywood on vacation for a week. Odds are, that won't go over well.
Some people are like (and I'm mostly in this camp), "What's the big deal? So maybe Jesus got married and had a kid. Even if true, that doesn't change his message, does it?" Others see the whole idea as a threat to their faith -- and if not their own faith, to the faith of those younger and/or less firm in their beliefs. For if the Bible lies about this, it could be lying about anything or everything.
Still other people, however, like the story, as it makes more of a place for women and all things feminine within the central mythology of Christianity -- which many see as a rather patriarchal project. Thus the film becomes a stomping ground for all kinds of folks: conspiracy theorists, religious conservatives, anti-Catholics, feminists . . . There's enough room on the soap-box for everyone! Let's climb aboard!
I'm going to try, from here on out, to not fall into that black pit of vipers. I would like to say that the Catholic church is an easy target these days; with all the sexual abuse scandals, it's almost popular to be anti-Catholic, in a way that would be far from PC if it were translated to any other faith. I mean, would a movie about a worldwide, thousands of years old, Jewish conspiracy go over well?
And, really, the Catholic church has been a big punching bag for centuries now; the whole Gothic genre of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was about shady monks hiding secrets while enjoying weird, pseudo-sexual, sadomasochistic pleasures. The character of Silas in the book and film is nothing but a Gothic throwback, with his flagellation and his obedience to authority and his naughty murderous shenanigans. Radcliffe would be proud. But, seriously, let's move on -- those tricky Mennonites are, I'm sure, up to no good.
But if you like the Gothic -- secrets, violence, twisted sexuality, conspiracies -- then the movie has a lot of offer. Naughty, murderous, naked, masochistic monks (who are also albino! Try that one on!). Car chases, logic puzzles. Murdered nuns. Lots o' beautiful shots of famous churches. Tom Hanks with long hair. Ian McKellen shakin' his booty.
I found the movie well-paced, as Hanks and lovely co-star Audrey Tautou race from place to place, eluding police while they attempt to crack the code. There is a bit of lengthy exposition during a pause at McKellen's castle, but it's really necessary information for anyone coming into the film without having already read the book.
And, if you have read the book, you do get the bonus of seeing Da Vinci's The Last Supper as McKellen explains its hidden meanings -- something harder to do well in a purely textual format.
That said, Dan Brown does a better job in the book of explaining and clarifying some of the history and mythology that he's dealing with. I imagine that, for the newbie viewer, it could get a bit confusing. The film is better as an addition for the person who's already read the book than as a stand alone piece. But given how many copies the book sold, most of the audience probably has read it.
The film tries to add some historical flashbacks, like scenes of knights storming Jerusalem in the crusades and of women being burned during witch hunts. The filmmakers try to do some snazzy stuff here, with foggy-black-and-white-vision (always good for historical flashbacks) and such. You get to see knights in tabards and armor charging around on horses! Yippee! I know you've never seen anything like that before! All these flashbacks are not done particularly well, and tend to come off as rather campy. There's something in the knights that makes me want to say "kuh-nig-its."
The acting is perfectly competent, even fairly good. It's always a pleasure to see Ian McKellen strut his sexah stuff. And the actress they found to play Sophie Neveu -- Audrey Tautou -- is quite lovely, in a kind of swarthy dark haired, dark eyed sort of way that should get more credit.
The chemistry between Hanks and Tautou is a bit lacking, but honestly I prefer it that way -- [BIG SPOILER THIS PARAGRAPH!] who wants to see Tom Hanks getting it on with the descendant of Christ? That's just too disturbing.
I was not entirely pleased with Paul Bettany's performance as Silas the Gothic Monk. The excesses of his masochism (always accompanied by swelling, cathartic music) really made me want to laugh; I never found them disturbing or disgusting, just funny. Perhaps this could have been fixed with better scoring -- preferably silence. But between the self-flagellation and the melodramatic music, it became too campy.
In short, the movie was better than I expected, given the negative press. The acting is pretty good; the plotline is entertaining; the settings are gorgeous. If there are some off moments, and there certainly are, they don't ruin the movie. Especially if you're a fan of the book, or of Gothic anti-Catholicism, or of conspiracy theories, you should go check it out.
If you leave your soap box at home, you'll be in for some good, clean, gothic fun.