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May 19, 2006

The DaVinci Code


Ron Howard - 2006
Columbia Pictures 35mm film

My signficant other, who was enthusiastic about Dan Brown's novel, encouraged me to read The DaVinci Code several months ago. Ron Howard's film is actually pretty close to what I had imagined. There has been some streamlining of characters and events, but most of the novel is transposed to film much the way Brown described the action. I could quibble about the casting, Brown's hero is to resemble Harrison Ford or Brown himself, while Ian McKellen is not the portly Sir Leigh Teabing of the novel, but these are minor deviances.

I have to wonder what the protest and calls for boycott are about. The novel and film raise a bunch of questions only to have the reader or viewer draw their own conclusions about what qualifies as the basis of faith. What puzzles me is that people can be relatively polite concerning a controversial book, yet if that book is made into a movie, there seems to be greater concern. From the sound of alarm, one would think the film should be titled "The Last Temptation of Opie". There's nothing in Ron Howard's film that isn't in the book, which happens to end on a very reverent note. I can neither confirm nor deny any historical or religious truths to The DaVinci Code. With its varied cultural references, the film is actually most similar to the wild-goose chase of National Treasure, a film based on the premise that the Declaration of Independence has a hidden map on the back, only not as fun.

What made me uncomfortable about The DaVinci Code was the violence. Specifically, because of the PG-13 rating, children will be seeing this film. The scenes of self-flagellation and use of a celice belt by the character of Silas were intense. There was also a scene of Silas murdering an old woman in a church. For me this seems far less "family friendly" than some gentle films rated R simply because of the hurling of a few choice four-letter words.

The use of digitial effects is somewhat similar to what Howard did with A Beautiful Mind, providing literal visions of mental imaginings. I can't really fault Howard for his ambitions. He wants to be the neo-classic director of big films about big ideas. Even when the film is about controversial ideas as in The DaVinci Code or a controversial person such as John Nash, one senses that Howard sees himself getting close to the edge, only to skitter back a bit to view things from a safe distance. If Ron Howard wants to truly approach the creative heights of the filmmakers he admires, he needs to be as adventurous as some of his characters and have greater faith in himself.

Posted by peter at May 19, 2006 06:30 PM


People worry more about a movie adaptation because more people (and, I guess, a higher proportion of people who aren't very educated) will get to see it. Similar moral panics ensued over books such as Lady Chatterley's Lover; in the UK a prosecution for obscenity was only considered when a paperback edition came out.

I still don't see the problem with the Da Vinci Code anyway (other than the fact that it was clearly written by a 12-year-old with English as a third language, and all the big ideas were old hat 20 years ago). I haven't seen the film, so the only comment I can make is "Tom - the hair...."

The big idea is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. So what? It's not as if the Catholic Church has a pathological hatred of heterosexual love, is it? Is it?

Posted by: Cultural Snow at May 21, 2006 10:11 AM