THE DA VINCI CODE
Directed by Ron Howard (2006)
Ron Howards The Da Vinci Code postulates that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were husband and wife and that Mary gave birth to a daughter named Sara who married into the bloodline of the Merovingian kings in early France. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Dan Brown, the film tackles a great theme, the early history of Christianity, but does not rise to the occasion. The direction is flat and the story is complicated rather than complex. Yet, notwithstanding the knee-jerk reaction of some critics who become apoplectic at the introduction of any ideas outside of their orthodox straitjackets, it is an entertaining and stimulating film that may cause people to think about the role of women in the Church or ponder the veracity of 2000 years of Christian orthodoxy.
The Da Vinci Code starts with a murder and a mystery. A curator of the Louvre, Jacques Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle), is found murdered and Police investigator Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) thinks that Symbology Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is the killer since he was mentioned by Saueniere in a dying message. Langdon is summoned to the crime scene to aid in analyzing symbols painted in blood on the deceased along with cryptic codes left near the body but soon discovers that he is the main suspect in the murder. Together with Saunieres granddaughter, cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tatou), he tries to decipher the clues and solve the crime while on the run from the police. She thinks that her grandfather asked for Langdon in order to protect a secret that threatens the entire raison d'tre of the Catholic Church.
The two suspect that Sauniere was killed because he was a member of The Priory of Sion, a super secret society which is sworn to protect the knowledge of the Holy Grail. The Priory naturally is opposed not only by the Church but by an extremist sect called Opus Dei, personified in the film by Silas (Paul Bettany), a self-flagellating albino monk who together with the French police, hunts the fleeing couple. The skeptical Langdon and Neveu enlist the aid of eccentric Grail researcher Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) to help in their quest. He tells them of his belief that Leonardo Da Vinci hid clues and codes in his artwork describing how to find the Sangreal, the Priorys documented record of their history, and, ultimately, the Grail itself.
The true Holy Grail, according to Teabing, is not the chalice shared at the Last Supper but the missing sarcophagus of Mary Magdalene who fostered the royal bloodline. After many chases and power plays, the two escape to London where they visit the Temple church, founded by the Knights templar in 1185, and Westminster Abbey where they explore the tomb of Priory member, Sir Isaac Newton. Tom Hanks does his usual fine if not spectacular job as the thoughtful private investigator and Audrey Tatou is a pleasant presence throughout. While neither role offers the actors many opportunities to showcase their dramatic talent, the performances are neither dull nor lacking in energy as some have claimed.
I particularly welcome the exposure the film gives to the denigration of women by the Catholic Church and the role of Mary Magdalene in church history. While The Da Vinci Code never reaches its full potential as a compelling work of art, it is solid entertainment that creates awareness of the differences within the early church and may spur people to read apocryphal writings such as the Gnostic Gospels and The Gospel of Thomas. Of course, the theory, first expounded in the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, is out of the mainstream, yet, it is not as preposterous as Roger Ebert has claimed. Given the paucity of historical records referring to a historical Jesus and the passing of two thousand years, it is no more implausible than many other theological notions, widely accepted as the unvarnished truth.