A Note from Our Editor: The Film of the Da Vinci Code
While in Paris recently on business, I found myself at the cinema complex at Les Halles at the very time of a showing of the widely touted film of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. The news magazines here have been all gaga about the movie since its recent premier at the Cannes film festival. “ So why not take it in?” I asked myself. As I struggled out of the theatre afterwards, I was mumbling, Que je suis bien déçu—or, in English, “What a crock!” The only saving grace was that the French spoken by such actors at Jean Reno was actually in French, thereby eliminating the agony of subtitles.
Cinematographically, Ron Howard—who as a director certainly should know better—has managed to put moviemaking back at least a generation. The first half takes place in almost total darkness (budget too thin for lighting?). Many of the “historical” flashbacks and not a few of the location sites are obviously computer-generated or filmed by drunken camera people. Tom Hanks manages (1) a single, wooden expression throughout the entire movie (apparently to convey academic seriousness), (2) a speech style no respectable American university professor would ever use, and (3) a remarkable penchant for pompous vacuity. And, if all that were not bad enough, the film is excruciatingly long: no amount of popcorn can get one through it unscathed.
And then we have the content. At Cannes, Howard declared that the film is simply fiction–neither history nor theology. Well, it happens to be presented as both—which moves the whole operation into immorality and perversity. A survey of filmgoers in England found that a significant proportion who saw the movie believed that its central theme (that Jesus married Mary Magdelene and had offspring, and that the church repressed such information) could well be true.
Here are just a few (seven—the perfect symbolic number) of the misleading ideas in the film: (1) The Knights Templar were really not participating in the Crusades to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land; they were hiding the secret of the Grail. (2) The Grail was not the cup at the Last Supper, but Mary Magdalene and the female offspring of the Jesus line. (3) A secret society, the “Priory of Zion,” has existed across the centuries to protect Jesus’ descendants and eventually to reveal the truth about him. (4) Leonardo Da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton were members of that secret organisation; indeed, the church opposed Newton on the law of gravitation (!) in part owing to this. (5) The conservative Roman Catholic order of Opus Dei consists of murderous folk who do anything and everything to eliminate the descendants of Jesus and crush the rumour that he was married. (6) The Inquisition was primarily directed against women—in line with Christianity’s deep-seated opposition to the female sex in general and to Jesus’ marriage in particular. (7) Great paintings reveal the truth of Jesus’ marriage: in Da Vinci’s Last Supper the angle between Jesus and a “female” disciple is that of a “V”—the vagina symbol of womanhood.
If this egregious pot-boiling were not bad enough, there is the theology. Toward the — merciful — end of the film, “Professor of Religious Symbolism” Hanks says to his female lead (earlier revealed as an atheist!): “You are the last living descendant of Jesus Christ.” (At this point, the French audience roared with laughter—which was not exactly what the director had intended.) And then came the flim’s sermonic message: “Would you, as the descendant of Jesus, really want to destroy the faith of millions? After all, it’s what you believe. And does it matter if Jesus was human or divine? Maybe the human is divine. All we’ve ever really known of Jesus is that he was an extraordinary person. When I fell into a well at seven years of age, I prayed to him; maybe that’s how I was rescued.”
As has been pointed out by critics of the book (who have often unfortunately given the book more press than it has deserved), the Da Vinci Code relies on utterly unhistorical, late Gnostic Gospels (“Gospel of Bartholomew,” “Gospel of Mary Magdalene”) and the entirely unproven hypothesis that the Emperor Constantine was little more than a pragmatist who made sure that at the Council of Nicaea such materials were repressed in favour of the canonical New Testament material. Indeed, the scholarship of Dan Brown’s book is so bad that one French literary magazine has suggested that the author can obviously manage only one plot in all his books and that the results could equally be generated by computer.
But the whole theme of the film (and book) strikes a chord with (1) the general religious ignorance of our time, (2) the cultural suspicion that all “organisations” (not just big government but the churches as well) are engaged in undercover, immoral activity, (3) the rampant acceptance of conspiracy theories (who really killed Kennedy—the CIA?), and (4) the desperate desire to see Jesus as a nice, new-age figure—without the necessity of coming to terms with what he said about sin, redemption, and the absolute necessity of personal commitment to him as Divine Saviour.
The immorality of the Da Vinci Code lies in its author’s and its film producer’s playing on these cultural failings of our time. Art is supposed to elevate the spirit, not pander to the lowest and to least attractive prejudices and weaknesses of the audience. Perhaps we are here encountering another evidence of the truth of Jesus’ rhetorical question: “When the Son of man comes again, will he find faith on the earth?”
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Some years ago, the Encyclopedia Britannica attracted readers with the question: “How long has it been since your mind was stretched by a new idea?” For some, sadly, it has been far too long! This, however, cannot be true of readers of the Global Journal. This issue is guaranteed to entail maximum stretching.
The distinguished English journal Evangelical Quarterly recently published a devastating critique of Van Tilian presuppositionalism. John Frame, the well-known defender of that position, replied. When the original author then provided a rejoinder, Evangelical Quarterly—oddly enough—did not accept it. Well, we did! Read John J. Johnson’s “How a Muslim Could Employ Van Til’s Apologetic System” in this issue.
Post-modernism continues to plague classic Christian theology—as it does all viewpoints that take formal logic and an objective, empirical world seriously. Donald T. Williams offers readers, as a literary treat, a Socratic dialogue (“Revenge of the Dwems”). We believe that readers will regard it as a striking and enjoyable counteractive to the vagaries of the post-modernist mentality.
Finally, a previous contributor, The Revd Kenneth Harper, provides some genuinely practical theology (as contrasted with much of what goes under that title both in seminary curricula and on the shelves of the average Christian bookstore!): his challenging essay, “Biblical Leadership Metaphors and Contemporary Management Theory.”
— John Warwick Montgomery