May 27, 2006

A Travesty and Abomination Against Film-Making

Oh No!
It’s Time for Yet Another Installment of …

Today’s Feature: "The Da Vinci Code"

FOR MANY PEOPLE, the outlandish theology put forward in “The Da Vinci Code” has been a cause for grave concern. I must admit, though, it is not a concern I have shared. After all, the holy and apostolic Roman Catholic Church has weathered the Arian and Pelagian heresies, the Great Schism with the eastern Church in 1054, the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, and Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. portraying priests in 1981’s “The Cannonball Run.” Surely the Church will survive this latest affront to its majesty and dignity.

Still, there’s no denying the film brings up many theological questions. For instance, is the existence of “The Da Vinci Code,” which runs a ridiculous 149 minutes, compatible with the idea of a loving and benevolent God? While it may surprise you, the answer is actually yes. God has given us free will to see the picture or not to see it. Besides, human suffering goes hand-in-hand with the doctrine of original sin, and “The Da Vinci Code” reflects both the existence of original sin and the commission of many new iniquities.

Of course, I should caution my views are solely my own. Those readers seeking an official Catholic opinion on the film ought visit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ site, and see what the Church’s licentiates have to say on the matter. That said, “The Da Vinci Code” is an utterly silly and pretentious movie, full of laughably convoluted plot twists which work only because various characters take leave of their God-given senses. Furthermore, I would say the Catholic Church and the prelature of Opus Dei have very little to worry about due to the film’s success. If anything, the movie will get people more interested in both the Church and Opus Dei, and only good could come from that.

In the MEANTIME ...  E-O-Eleven!

FAITH UNDER FIRE: Some theologians believe “The Da Vinci Code” movie could prove as damaging to the Catholic Church’s image as 1981’s “The Cannonball Run” (at left). Other experts, however, argue that given the U.S. Church’s attempts to be “like crazy” and “with it” during the 1970s, such an event would be utterly impossible.

Anyway, here’s “The Da Vinci Code’s” plot. As usual, spoilers follow, so you have officially been warned.

The film begins with Harvard Prof. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) providing aid and comfort to America’s enemies, by which I mean he’s lecturing a group of Parisian college students. Then, as he is taking part in a book signing, a veritable army of French policemen from the Central Directorate of Judicial Police arrive and start asking him all sorts of questions about a body they’ve found – in full view of the college types.

With a police force like this, it’s no surprise it took the French authorities two weeks to quelch last year’s nationwide rioting. Unsurprisingly, it is also the first in a series of classic blunders the CDJP commits under the command of their fearless leader, Capt. Fache (Jean Reno). Capt. Fache brings Langdon to the Louvre for the supposed purpose of having him look over the corpse of scholar Jacques Sauniere, but we soon learn that Opus Dei member Fache plans to arrest Langdon for Sauniere’s murder.

Of course, the audience saw the murder take place a few minutes earlier, just one of several annoying simultaneous-action/flashback type of things which take place throughout the film. An intelligent movie would have had this happen off-screen, but sadly, “The Da Vinci Code” is not all that bright.

The movie starts out with the monk-assassin Silas (Paul Bettany) dispatching Sauniere in the Louvre. Unfortunately, he fires just one shot, which only mortally wounds Sauniere. In addition to violating the First Commandment of Assassin’s School, this apparently leaves Sauniere alive for roughly 45 minutes, giving him plenty of time to scrawl out messages to his grand-daughter, update his living will, add Langdon on MySpace, and what not.

Fortunately for Langdon, however, he is saved from Fache’s clutches due to the convenient appearance of Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), gardien de la paix stagiaire and Sauniere's grand daughter, who quickly convinces him he is in grave danger. Through a clever stratagem, the pair manage to trick the CDJP into thinking Langdon has managed to escape the building. So as the police rush off in their tiny little police cars with the air horns blaring, Langdon and Neveu rush off and begin a mad dash across France for freedom. What a boring mad dash it is, too.

This leads us to three major complaints the educated movie-goer can find with “The Da Vinci Code.” The first is that the main characters always escape situations in which they are trapped via deceptions so simple even a college student could put a stop to them -- if only the people charged with doing the stopping were a bit more patient! The second is that for specialists in their fields, they spend an incredible amount of time engaging in what’s known in science-fiction writing as “the data dump” – that is, explaining things to the reader through unnecessary dialogue.

The third complaint, though, is perhaps the most grave, and that has to do with how the movie looks at theology and the Church. It’s just a mess. I mean, even a movie should do its best to be coherent. Yet “The Da Vinci Code” just pulls things from here and there, and as such, it gets so silly that the plot becomes as thin as a spider web, and it soon breaks apart from its own fragility.

That’s not to say “The Da Vinci Code” is entirely bad – the cinematography is quite well done, and the scenery is downright beautiful. Even a bad script can’t erase the beauty one finds in old churches, and there are many scenes filmed at major landmarks which are downright stunning.

It is in one of these remarkably beautiful places, as the movie enters its denouement, where the germ of evil plants itself amidst a feel-good ending.

You see, Langdon, in an opinion one would fully expect from a Harvard religion professor, tells Neveu something to this effect: first, that what she personally believes is all that really matters; and second, that the historical record shows Christ was a great teacher and inspiration to mankind, and nothing more.

If there is anything evil in this film, it is expressed not in the hours of discussion about clerical plots, secret societies and marginal gospels long ago deemed unworthy, but rather here. Both of these ideas are morally and theologically ruinous. To believe the first is to confuse desire with belief, and to put personal experience above accepted truth – in short, to spiritually put one’s head in the sand like an ostrich. After all, will not God do His judging according to His own standards, or will He use yours or mine or those of your next-door neighbor?

As for the second idea, C.S. Lewis discussed that lie far better than I ever could, in his Mere Christianity. Back during the Second World War, this is what he wrote on the topic:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at May 27, 2006 01:46 PM | TrackBack
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