May 23, 2006

My Two DaVinci Cents

2 cents(Interruption to deal with impudent terrier). My 14-year-old and I went to see The DaVinci Code on Sunday.
The film was entertaining, to be sure, but slow in spots and hardly brilliant.

The story is rich in cryptographic arcana, which do not translate well to the screen. Explanations are required, both of the various codes and mindgames, and of the rather implausible twists and turns of the plot. Tom Hanks is rather wooden, and Ian McKellar, as many have said, chews the scenery, albeit with aplomb.

The quality of the film is not the center of the controversy, of course. This turns on the book's conceit--that the Vatican has hidden for centuries the truth that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalen and has descendants, protected by a secret society, the Priory of Sion, to which Leonardo and Sir Isaac Newton, for starters, belonged.

Orthodox Christians have reacted strongly to these accusations, some with horror, and some seeing it as an opportunity to preach the orthodox gospel to a backsliding civilization. The Catholic order, Opus Dei, accused of fascism and unfairly depicted as conspiring zealots and perverts, has probably the most legitimate grievance.

On the historical front, the orthodox Christians win. The plot is contrived and full of historical howlers, such as the false claim that the Council of Nicaea, under the aegis of Constantine, established the canon of the New Testament, which was largely fixed centuries before. Or that Gnosticism, which in fact disdained the material creation and the body, was somehow a proto-feminist version of Christianity that the patriarchy suppressed.

The hooey in the plot is unlikely to shake any Christian's faith. There are so many easier ways to do that--20 minutes watching Pat Robertson, a review of the sexual abuse rampant in the Catholic clergy (as well as others), a look at scientific inaccuracies in the Bible (my favorite is Jacob's trick with the herd, based on the discredited notion of prenatal influence). It's interesting that Christians seem more concerned over a novel and a movie than over so much else in our society on the level of conduct rather than a novel and a flick, such as, for example, the widespread acceptance of gambling, the decline of family life, the sexualization of childhood, and the loss of nerve by those who should be defending the culture.

The DaVinci Code is a sideshow, a symptom of the decline of Christianity, confirming the aphorism that people who lose their faith do not believe in nothing, but will believe in anything. That, my friends, not this particular trifle from Ron Howard, is the problem.

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