TCS Daily


Code Breakers

By James Pinkerton - May 19, 2006 12:00 AM

Leaping Leonardos! "The DaVinci Code" is really getting clobbered. Even the film's own makers have joined in the flagellation. But after the critics and pundits and self-flagellators are done with their walloping, something Profound might yet emerge.

Published in 2003, Dan Brown's book took off -- selling a miraculous 40 million copies in hard cover -- for three reasons. First, it simply is a page-turner of a whodunit: the novel reads like a movie script.

Second, people love riddles, puzzles, and, of course, codes. From crosswords to horoscopes to psychics, we all want access to secret knowledge and will work hard -- and pay a lot -- to get it. And Brown has marbled his mystery inside the meat of our Western Civilization.

Third, the book succeeded because Brown taunted us with the idea that maybe the story -- Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and His, or perhaps Their, descendants are with us to this day -- is actually true. As a preface to the book is a page titled "Fact"; it tells us that "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." Got that? Indeed, "Code" taps into a rich vein of scholarship that argues a distinctly feminist alternative history of the West; the lengthy discussion of the "chalice and the blade," in both the book and the movie, is straight from a book of that same title, by Riane Eisler.

Three years ago, when he was touring to promote the book, Brown appeared on "Good Morning America" and was asked, "If you were writing it as a nonfiction book, how would it have been different?" Brown responded, "I don't think it would have. I began the research for The Da Vinci Code as a skeptic. ... After numerous trips to Europe, about two years of research, I really became a believer."

Now in fact, many of the factual claims of the book have, shall we say, wobbly foundations. There might have been a "Priory of Sion" back in 1099, as Brown asserts, but it hasn't had a continuous history; it's connected to the current pseudo-history-spouting Priory of Sion in name only.

But enough of history -- what about theology? Here at TCS, Stephen Bainbridge tallied up the various heresies that Brown conflated to help him with his story. All of which inspired The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan to declare, "I do not understand the thinking of a studio that would make, for the amusement of a nation 85% to 90% of whose people identify themselves as Christian, a major movie aimed at attacking the central tenets of that faith, and insulting as poor fools its gulled adherents."

That is an interesting question—why does Hollywood make movies that bash religion and other conservative verities? Whole books have been written about that topic, including Ben Stein's The View from Sunset Boulevard and Michael Medved's Hollywood v. America, but I think it's fair to say that this view is changing. The dominant movie culture may despise Mel Gibson, but the success of "The Passion of The Christ" made an impression -- about six hundred million dollars' worth.

At which point, Hollywood started casting around for some hot Christian property, and so director Ron Howard glommed on to "Code," without quite stopping to think that there's a huge difference between a devotional film, such as "Passion," and the debunking film that "Code" had to be. If that seems too simplistic an explanation, I'll leave it you to explain why Sony is spending $250 million to attack the fundaments of the Catholic Church in particular, and Christianity in general.

In any case, the filmmakers weren't expecting the counter-attack from Christians; the slow-gathering criticism of the book has become a fast-and-furious critical crescendo against the movie. To which Howard & Co. adopted an interesting strategy: They tried to shrug off the fusillade -- it's only a movie, folks.

Star Tom Hanks, who has built his career on being Mr. Sincerity, is now the shrugger-in-chief: The film, he says, is "loaded with all sorts of hooey and fun kind of scavenger-hunt-type nonsense. If you are going to take any sort of movie at face value, particularly a huge-budget motion picture like this, you'd be making a very big mistake." And co-star Ian McKellen has called the book "a load of codswallop," although he couldn't resist adding, "I'm happy to believe that Jesus was married."

But if the people who made the movie won't stand up for their own movie, then it's hardly a surprise that critics have been emboldened to tear it down; the compendium site Rotten Tomatoes finds that some 80 percent of critics have dubbed it "rotten."

But is the film really that bad? Is it "mostly inert," as Time calls it? Is it an "unwieldy, bloated melodrama," as The Hollywood Reporter asserts? Or, as The Chicago Tribune asks, "How can a film contain so many clues yet remain utterly clueless?"

And the answer from an unbiased observer -- that would be me -- is "Yes, it is that bad, but it still has some good parts, and maybe some great parts."

The two-and-a-half-hour "thriller," which takes us from Paris through the French countryside to London, is, strangely, kind of a bore. Unleavened by humor or romance, the movie alternates between lectures and chases. And both are filmed in a strange dreary darkness. I have read that the proprietors of The Louvre insisted on minimal lighting to protect the exhibits from damage, but Howard seems to have forgotten that the rest of the movie could be made bright. (Although the flashback scenes, going all the way back to Roman Empire days, are well realized; one yearns to see more of the Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea -- hint to future moviemakers.)

The best character in a thriller, of course, is often the villain. But the hulking albino monk, Silas (Paul Bettany), has the same mutely hulking quality as Rocky in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," and trust me, that dumb muscleman was a lot more interesting than this tortured murderer.

So is there anything good to be said about the movie? Anything at all?

Only this. In its own strange and perhaps inadvertent way, the film possesses a kind of religious reverence. Two scenes stand out:

In one, hero-symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) and his sidekick Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) seek refuge from pursuers in a raunchy Parisian park, teeming with hookers and drug dealers. Since the two need privacy -- unraveling the conspiracy at the heart of Christianity takes at least a few minutes of uninterrupted skull-sessioning -- Sophie offers a junkie 50 Euros if he will abandon his drug set-up and just go away, sans needles. At a time in which people ask themselves, "What Would Jesus Do?" one can't help but see her gesture as distinctly Christian: Do good to everyone you see, because you might be entertaining angels. Moreover, you never know who the entertainer will turn out to be... I'd better stop there, lest the Spoiler Police get to me.

In another scene, a nun is confronted by Silas. He wants to talk about the Book of Job, but she responds that the greatest of the church's commandments is -- and then she is martyred. It's reasonable to surmise that if Sister Sandrine could have finished her sentence, she would have cited John 13:34, which tells us that the greatest of God's commandments is to "love one another." Can't get any more Christian than that.

Indeed, a book/movie this immersed in Christianity -- or, if you prefer, anti-Christianity -- can't help but get people thinking about Larger Things. It's said that some 45 anti-Code books have been published; does anybody think there would have been that much popular scholarship devoted to origins-of-the-church controversies without Dan Brown's provocation? And what about all those websites, each one a labor of agape?

I will bet that "The Code Controversy" is going to be remembered as a turning point in popular-religious culture. Christians flocked to see "The Passion of the Christ," which changed Hollywood, but then, two years later, they flocked to react to "Code"; they have created their own counter-culture, which will bear faith-fruit long after this particular movie is reduced to third-tier DVD-dom.

But the book, I suspect, will endure. Why? Because, as noted earlier, people love puzzles and riddles. And isn't puzzling and riddling the essence of faith? And, for that matter, the essence of the scientific method? Those who uphold religion, those who uphold science -- and those who uphold both -- are all engaged in parallel quests: to make the universe explicable.

So any story that starts with The Greatest Story Ever Told is going to find no small resonance. This is true even if the story is an attack; the attacker is still paying a kind of homage.

I have no doubt that the filmmakers of "The DaVinci Code" will be distraught at the film's critical failure, which will surely damage its box office prospects. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, not all publicity is good publicity. And, frankly, Howard, Hanks et. al. should be embarrassed for themselves: They didn't do due diligence on the story, or the shooting script, or the technical execution of the film.

Yet at the same time, I suspect that book-author Brown is in a much different place, emotionally and philosophically. OK, the movie version was a dud, but the book itself is still generating heat -- and perhaps light.

James Pinkerton is TCS Daily's media critic and a fellow at the New America Foundation.

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76 Comments

Gimme a freakin' break!
Any fool know that "Davinci Code" is fiction. Any fool 'cept a conservative fool, I suppose. "Feminist revisionist history" forsooth. You all need a freakin' enema. Have your meds adjusted. Something. Get the hell outta town with this crap!

Da Vinci Code unraveled. The power was in the Constantinople, not in Rome
I posted this on Bainbridge's article and it may be less appropriate here but the whole idea of the plot of the Da Vinci code is absurd given that the power was not in Rome but in Constantinoble at the time of the Nicea council and for several hundred years afterward. Read the following

http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060518/NEWS02/605180335/1204

which unravels the DaVinci code at its beginning. Most of the Church in terms of power, saints , people was in the East. It is amazing what Hanks had said since he apparently attends an Eastern Orthodox church.

The movie is just blasphemy
and attacks against God. The punishment will be terrible.

The Real Irony
The real irony is that conservatives are actually way more likely to believe in the Illuminati and similar conspiracies than liberals are. Perhaps that's what got all these mental defectives so much up in arms over a work of fiction.

Now if "The Davinci Code" had depicted the Illuminati as some kind of liberal conspiracy, you wouldn't hear any of this noise. Instead the same idiots would produce a lot of sage commentary along the lines of Coulter's latest polemic, and Fox News would run an expose on how the book contains a kernel of truth.

Maybe true but it won't affect many
Maybe, the movie is blasphemous but saying that won't affect many in today's world who are embedded with an empirical world view. Showing them that an idea is an empirically absurd is what works.

Da Vinci Code
History and entertainment doing the dance, for money and fame. Ray Brown took information from various books and compiled and moulded into one historical entertaining Book. Movie, made, for those who read very little. Here are a few of the books that say the similar story. The Masonary, history of Masons in America, is also part of this not so new story. Holy Blood/Holy Grail authored by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, 1982... Then came David R. Wood wrote Genisis: the First Book of Revelations, published 1985 The Baton Press.... The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, by Micheal Baigent and Richard Leigh in 1991 and you'll find some obscure information in The Hiram Key, by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas in 1997, and last but well written is John Robinson's Written in Blood, excellent account of Freemasons. Also one has to remember that the book had to be adapted to a movie, the screen play, that was written by the Jewish Writer, A Goldsman, who also did Cinderella Man an A beautiful mind. Therefore it is a combination of historical entertainment, only those who have something to hide, will feel slandered. The Nag Hammadi Library, is much more profound and accurate, great reading. Education makes the film more entertaining, Read, Read, before talking. I have heard, "one needs to read 1oo times more before one utters a single word.

you'd be respected...
if you didn't target a group of people and make asinine, ignorant, and just plain dumb political statements.

Didn't we discuss this yesterday?
It's been a long week...

Don't want the respect...
...of any bozo who can't keep a work of fiction in perspective. Those fools are no better than the fools who rioted over "Satanic Verses."

Well, perhaps it's a testament to the times. Conservative Christians really aren't any different from conservative Muslims.

Leave God out of it, take 2
If the movies is blasphemy, excellent! The world needs a hell of a lot more of it.



Truth in degrees
Unfortunatly making too much out of something. This is the Era of Whistle blowing, all former truths are being re-examined, reveiwed and criticised. Chirstianity is being re-appreciated from different historical texts. Everything is in a constant flux of change, to expect religion to remain the same is unrealistic and as new information is found the refining and redefining of all concepts, religion is no exception. Jesus, Budda, Mohammed didn't write anything down, so you have only someone elses ears and mind to filter the original message, look through the eyes of love, to see what is usefull and what is not. Rediscovering your own soul, and not following blindly.

That's right ace, if we were you wouldn't have dared to say it
Because some Chrisitian would now be displaying your head on tv.

Thanks for the display of bigotry so typical of the reality based Left.

Don't count on it...
If conservative Christians held sway in the USA the way conservative Muslims do in other parts my head would have been on display long ago. That ain't bigotry, that's reality. Lucky for most of us that sort of insanity only occasionally makes headlines here.

Free Speech is a WONDERFUL thing
I have said it before, and I will say it again:

Free Speech is a wonderful thing - it lets you know who the idiots are.

Case in point: this moulding guy.

See, without the right to free speech here in America, we might not as easily be able to discern that the guy is a complete and utter moron.

In a way, though, it's kind of nice, while having to wade through ramaya's hashish-haze-induced stream-of-consciousness rambling non-sequiturs, heavy vinter's inbred catskills yowling, -r's incredible cut'n'paste powers, and michael's tired insistance that communism is just plain groovy, that some guy like moulding here comes along and just straight-up announces to the world that he is nothing but a brain-dead limp tool.

Bigotry
Thanks again for your display of bigoty it allows us to identify the mentially deficit and take precautions.

When you can't deny the truth of what I say...
...then you attack me personally. Eh. Figures.

Deny the 'truth' ?
The phrase 'You can't reason with crazy' comes to mind.

You make a ludicrous statement as 'there is no difference between conservative Christians and conservative muslims' and have the gall to say that you have somehow spoken a truth?

All you have really done is display, for everyone to see, that you know nothing either of Christianity OR islam.

There is no truth to deny. You're clearly just an ignorant dime-store fool, and would be beneath notice or response, except that poking and prodding at 'people' like you is invariably fun entertainment.

Why is it ludicrous?
I mean, they react the same way to the same stimulus. If I have two black boxes that produce the same output for the same input then for my purposes they are the same.

Internally they may well be wired differently, and the engineers who separately built the boxes could well show me that their wiring diagrams are very different indeed. But in the final analysis it makes no difference.

And there you go again with the name calling. Well, I did start it, and I suppose as one of the mental defectives who can't tell the difference between fact and fiction you did feel slighted.

Get used to it.

Christians ARE NOT THE SAME AS CONSERVATIVE MUZZIES.
Tell me you sicko. When, where, and how many people did Christians kill? It is always muslims killing, raping in Sweden, Norway, and England. It is always muslims bombing. How many heads were lopped off by Christians holding swords? You are just bitter and hateful. Is there not a pentagram you should be worshipping now? Christians know you will be punished in the afterlife and NEVER touch you. Muslims want to kill you now as they dont believe in God. You need to try and pass your GED this year....maybe 23 is a charm. H. Moulding, you are truly moldy in the head.

Lucky for us...
...there are way more sensible people than there are conservative Christians, at least in those parts of the world where the conservative Christians live. Even in the USA, hard as that may be to believe. That's why we don't hear more about conservative Christians committing atrocities.

Not that they don't. In recent memory (the past twenty years) I can think of five specific instances:

* Christians massacering Muslims in a refugee camp in Lebanon

* Various atrocities committed by either side in the sectarian fight in Northern Ireland

* Jim Jones

* Ervil LeBaron

* Waco

Pinkerton might be right
I moved from atheism to evangelical Christianity over a period of many years, and two big influences that got me thinking about God was Jesus Christ Superstar (the movie)and The Stand by Stephen King. The Church (Protestant and Catholic) was not happy about the first, and I'm guessing that they don't have much use for Stephen King either.

Jesus Christ Superstar planted the idea that Jesus was different and somehow special. Definitely not the everyday hero. The whole Judas thing was lost on me, although his questions made sense.

The Stand made me think about God's complete sovereignty. It didn't matter whether I agree with God; it only matters that He is, and I was going to have to deal with Him.

For me, the Bible came much later.

I was going to cut you some slack…
But this is just stupid - "I mean, they react the same way to the same stimulus. If I have two black boxes that produce the same output for the same input then for my purposes they are the same.
Internally they may well be wired differently, and the engineers who separately built the boxes could well show me that their wiring diagrams are very different indeed. But in the final analysis it makes no difference."

Wesley is right, if you can't tell the terrorists from a simple believer you are an idiot.

Denial of truth
Louis Armstrong, yes trumpet player said, "If some people don't know, you can't tell them. Again read History, Araham is the father of Jews and Muslims and that Jesus never said he was anything but a Jewish Rabbi. Jesus never used the word Christian, nor did Peter, who became the first Pope, St. Peter another Jew who never knew he was going to be called a Catholic, let alone the Rock the church was built on. So without one reading history it is easy to get confused, that the originator of one God was Abraham the first Jew. Even Jesus didn't know he would be called a Christian, and yet there he is hanging, both in Catholics and Christians, there he is just Hanging around with all of us. And there is nothing wrong with that, remember the past, so you know the present, and prepare for the future.

If the simple believer...
... acts like a terrorist how can you blame me that I can't tell the difference?

Anyway, your bigotry shows through here: I'm talking about conservative Muslims (who riot when something displeases them) and conservative Christians (who riot when something displeases them). I never once implied that conservative Christians and conservative Muslims are terrorists.

Terrorism is a completely separate issue.

Very sad
The only example that works is your first one. The rest are people committing suicide, some in the name of Christ or God, but most don't really even have that excuse.

You are mistaken, 85% of the USA indentifies itself Christian to some extent and 60%+ are, at least, somewhat conservative. That makes at least half the country "Christian Conservative" to some extent.

I suspect you are referring to the more far right Christian Conservatives. Yes, they make up less than 15% of the population. Still, that is a lot of people and a higher percentage than the "Fundamentalist Muslim" numbers in most countries Muslim.

Therefore, there is a huge difference in the radical actions of even the most "rabid" Christian Conservative and the most timid "Muslim Fundamentalist". You refuse to see this because you hate Christians. I guess their ability to love you in spite of your vile hatred is the reason. A little too "Creepy" in your book, hey?

One person's conservative...
...is another's left wing radical. Eh.

Not true
You make the comparison in a post below. Very badly I might add.

Christianity went through it's "darkest" days a long time ago. Yes, from the Crusades to the Inquisition, Christians have been know to get violent in the name of God. But, even in the worst of times, there were those who publically stood up against the actions of "the Church" as being against the "Teachings of Christ". Never has a religious sect been so silent against the violence perpetrated in it's name.

Calling me a bigot is a laugher. BTW, where is the big riot of "Conservative Christians" you are so enamoured with?

Give it a while...
... and Fox News is sure to whip one up for me. They haven't disappointed me, yet.

Not even close
A true "left-wing radical" doesn't believe in "God" in the sense of the Christian religion. They believe all deserve to be treated the way each individual wants to be treated instead of living under a set of rules and guidelines. The push for accpetance of homosexuality and homosexual marriage is just one example of this. This does away with the rule of law as well as the tennants of Christians.

They can't believe in God because they believe in the great Gaia or "universal evolution". No man can serve two masters. To them Man's overpopulation and societal advancement is the gretest evil.

The make up less than 10% of the population in the USA but think they are the majority or some intellectual standouts. That, in and of itself, shows them for the ignorant neanderthrals they are.

OK, I'll wait…
But I'll be surprised if it happens. What other big Riots did Fox whip up? Just curious…

Funny of you to say that...
... because it definitely illustrates my point. Most (all?) people pick their "center" wherever it suits them.

Display of ingnorance
Sorry Wes, like baseball call them as I see them. The lack of historical education with angry overtone leaves little for intelligent discourse, this is common, since the West has not been teaching accurate history or even the appreciation of history, even the founding American Fathers were educated in Europe and influenced by Rene Descart, Spinoza etc. Spinoza said that freedom of speech is more sacred than personalized belief of God. Most ignore the education of our founding fathers, and never search for the original thought and how it progressd through the ages. The west ignores it's academic roots, sometimes through Masonary you find glipses of personal history of our founding fathers. We, USA are a Constitutional Republic, not always Democratic, therefore the appointment of Bush when running against Gore. Three stikes and I'm out. That's why, to bring Democracy to the Muslims in Iraq, seems confusing to people who know history.

No riots, yet...
... though they have tried. I recall the supreme nonsense about "the liberal war against Christmas" with particular fondness. Masterful lying and deceit, that was.

There is a difference
Christians and Catholics do share some of the original roots being Jewish originally, and Martin Luther went against the Church of Rome, and now we have a different version of the Jew, Jesus. A new face of Christianity one that Rome was not fond of. Irony is that the Lutherians in the last 20 years, went back to the Paternal Pope, which Luther fought against, the pages are written already.

Just another Voltaire cretin
Voltaire hated Christianity and used every foul method to defamne and discredit it. One looks at your comments and realizes what ignorance and bigotry are.

Some people need constant attention because they were abused children others because they have failed at every thing they have ever attempted.

What's you excuse mold?

Pauled correct on stats
The Conservative Christians represented by Tim LaHayne and Jerry B.Jenkins, Taken in rapture to the right hand of God to sit with Jesus, compared to the Islamic virgins in Heaven, both are wild, yet the difference is in the killing. Muslims kill to get in heaven, Christians pray to get to heaven, big BIG difference, it's all in the be-headings!

Superstars have stars too
Both Jesus and Mohammed, Were in love with Moses. The Koran has 150 references to Moses. Jesus the Rabbi was in love with Moses, refered to him often and said to the other Jewish Rabbis, "Moses knew I was coming, Moses told you I was coming." All your Stars came from my Star, The Wind breaths Abraham.

if you can come up with proof
that all conservatives are like this, you would look a little less like your typical, hypocritical, liberal.

PS: If you can't tell the difference between rioting and complaining, then there is little chance that any of your neurons are still functional.

if you could come up with a handfull
of conservative Christian leaders, who hold the positions that you claim, it would make you look just a tiny bit less like a bigoted idiot.

Sauce for the goose...
... is sauce for the gander.

The koran is a slave book.
Read all of it and you will find 109 verses that encourage its PEACEFUL followers to murder, rape, enslave, kidnap, and steal from all non-believers. Wow, it must have been written by satan himself. No wonder its followers are all out of their minds. The Bible would be a better choice.

the error of your pronouncements
is self evident to anyone who isn't deep into hatred and denial.

Wesley, forget it
This guy actually believes that there is no difference between writting a letter to the editor, and rioting.

What??
I noticed the legal attack on Christmas years ago. To say it doesn't exist shows either ignorance or extreme bias! Yet, in spite of it all, no riots. No difference between Christians and Muslims?? he he… ya right!

please show where Christians have been acting like terrorists

truth is now a lie?
and just how was this report supposed to whip up a riot?

And just why did this report fail to whip up the riots you claim it was designed to whip up?

I take it you are admitting defeat?

Have you ever read any of Lee Stoebel's books?

Kind of getting off the subject, aren't you?
I mean, we're talking about people who get all exercised about a work of fiction. But, you know. It's no less than I expected.

asking you to defend your assertions is getting off subject?

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