Thursday, May 25, 2006

Of Mullets, Mary Magdalene & Movies

Well, OK, one particular movie - the ubiquitous "The Da Vinci Code". As far as media goes, the dang film is like the Borg - you WILL be assimilated.

I read the book late last year... and saw the film last night with our Under 30's small group. I wasn't impressed with the book because, aside from the utter nonsense about church history & theology, Dan Brown is simply not a good writer. (Anyone wishing to argue this must separate his skills as a plot creator and his skills as an actual writer... a good plot does not make a great book.)

But this post is about the film... and in honor of David Letterman's Top Ten Tuesday night ("
Top Ten Things Overhead Outside 'The Da Vinci Code'"), I'm creating my own Top Ten List. (Best bit from Letterman's list: 4. "Nine bucks a ticket, now that's blasphemy - - am I right, people?")

Top Ten Reactions of Mark To "The Da Vinci Code"

10. Go to the bathroom before the movie - while it isn't Lord of the Rings long, it is 2 1/2 hours.

9. I think the Catholic Church has shown admirable restraint in dealing with this film... the "religious" characters in the film are:
  • an albino monk into self-mortification & killing in the name of God
  • a secret society of cardinals & bishops who will kill to cover up the "truth"
  • a bishop who's willing to pay an anonymous source $20 million in tithes to cover up said "truth"
  • a police officer who is willing to beat up innocent people on the word of the bishop

Not exactly a recruiting film for the Vatican, eh?

8. Tom Hanks' mullet-y haircut is not nearly as distracting as I feared it would be.

7. For a thriller, it isn't all that thrilling.

6. The "historical flashbacks" are some of the most disturbing parts of the film... the killing of 'free-thinking women' in the name of witch-hunting (complete with a bound woman screaming underwater), the supposed persecution of non-Christians by bloodthirsty Christians (including a lovely shot of someone hoisted in the air on a spear), the image of the Council of Nicea as a bunch of bishops screaming at each other (which, sadly, reminded me of some church business meetings I've attended). It's good film - it conveys the "point" of the story - but it does so in an insidious way. The power of image & symbol are pretty heavy duty... and in response to each of these images the film offers no opportunity for rebuttal.

5. The cast uses all of their considerable skills to try & create characters out of the cardboard cut-outs Dan Brown created... but it's a sad waste of Jean Reno in a thankless role. And don't get me started on Ian McKellan gnawing on the scenery. (Every set he's on has teeth marks, as if some hyperactive beaver was let loose.)

4. The curator is one fiesty guy... gut-shot, he manages to get naked, paint himself in his own blood, lie down like he's imitating the Vitruvian Man drawing by Da Vinci, scrawl on the floor & next to the Mona Lisa, and hide a passkey for a safety deposit box behind another painting. Sheesh - there are some days I don't do that much work in 8 hours.

3. One of the reasons the movie feels so darn long is that there is literally NO tension for the last 1/2 hour of the film. (Though I was worried a bit when the Priory folks showed - the zombie-ish look in their eyes made me feel like the whole film was going to take a weird turn into Invasion of the Body Snatchers Land... they were all going to open their mouths & start pointing.)

2. The "discussion" at the core of the film (when Teabing & Langdon "explain" the Grail to Sophie) actually made more sense in the book. On film, where it's necessary to do something visually interesting, it looks like Teabing has been waiting around to explain this to anyone stupid enough to ask him the question. Gnostic gospels are sitting on bookstands, open to the correct page... "The Last Supper" is digitized & easily manipulated to make his points... sigh. (BTW, when I say that this scene "made more sense", I'm not referring to the actual theological & historical content. Dan Brown can't keep his facts straight to save his life.)

1. Why make such a big deal about a stupid film?! I cede my last point to G.K. Chesterton, who wrote the following quote more than 70 years ago:

If a man is repelled by one book, he can shut it and open another; but he cannot shut up a theatre in which he finds a show repulsive, nor instantly order one of a thousand other theatres to suit his taste. There are a limited number of theatres; and even to cinemas there is some limit. Hence there is a real danger of historical falsehood being popularized through the film, because there is not the normal chance of one film being corrected by another film. When a book appears displaying a doubtful portrait of Queen Elizabeth, it will generally be found that about six other historical students are moved to publish about six other versions of Queen Elizabeth at the same moment. We can buy Mr. Belloc's book on Cromwell, and then Mr. Buchan's book on Cromwell; and pay our money and take our choice. But few of us are in a position to pay the money required to stage a complete and elaborately presented alternative film-version of Disraeli. The fiction on the film, the partisan version in the movie-play, will go uncontradicted and even uncriticized, in a way in which few provocative books can really go uncontradicted and uncriticized... And most of those who are affected by it will know or care very little about its being brought to book by other critics and critical methods. The very phrase I have casually used, `brought to book', illustrates the point. A false film might be refuted in a hundred books, without much affecting the million dupes who had never read the books but only seen the film. [emphasis added]

Thanks to Peter T. Chattaway for pointing out this quote on his blog, Film Chat


Chris Lewis said...

I love that you quote GKC. Not nearly enough people even know who he is. Truly, he is the Apostle of Common Sense, as Dale Ahlquist says. I got turned on to GKC by my RCIA (i.e., "how to be Catholic" classes) sponsors, who are avid students of Chesterton. I have read a tiny portion of his writings, but I have liked it all so far. He's one of the saints I'm looking forward to meeting.

Digital Diet 365 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Wow... "return to righteousness" copy & pasted an entire post (entitled "Da Vinci Code - Antichrist Agenda) from his own blog into the comments here. I've deleted it (you're welcome to your opinion, but a link would have been sufficient, R2R.) If you'd like to read what he said, here's the link:

OTOH, the post that proceeds it in his blog essentially accuses Paul of being an apostate liar (and not an apostle) whose teachings are opposed to Christ, so take this guy with a REALLY large grain of salt.