I”m not in a big hurry to see The Da Vinci Code: The Movie. I trust the critics who say it’s boring beyond belief (pun intended). After all, I wasn’t wild about the book.
But I’m glad to hear that the film’s opening weekend did record-breakingly well at the all-powerful box office, despite the lousy reviews. It shows that people really crave this story. Not the story by author Dan Brown, director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, with its dull Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks), dour French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (played by Audrey Tautou), wooden language, farfetched situations, predictable chase scenes and disappointing ending. That story is just a semi-cleverly constructed shell; the egg inside is what people really want. That inside story is the Greatest Story Ever Untold: the simple tale of Jesus as a sexual human being married to another sexual human being, the forgotten feminine counterpart, Mary Magdalene, the “vessel” of Jesus’ human bloodline, the Holy Grail.
People crave this Story of the Holy Grail. People want to know that God has Sex. Then maybe it’d be okay if they have sex too.
People also long to connect with the “lost” feminine counterpart to their spirituality. They want to know that where there’s a Lord, there’s a Lady.
As I wrote a few years ago in my review of Dan Brown’s book, this is what I crave, and this is what I love about The Da Vinci Code. It introduces the explosive mysteries of the Magdalene, the ancient feminist tale of Jesus’ sexual humanity – directly, without metaphor – to the blockbuster-loving public. What are these mysteries? According to the Legends of the Grail (and books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Woman with the Alabaster Jar), the Catholic Church has violently repressed the “truth” about JC being hooked up with MM for 20 centuries. Why? Because the Church’s power was and is based upon the idea that Jesus Christ is divine, not a mere human with a wife and kids. Obviously, if it could be proven that Jesus was a mortal husband and father, as opposed to being a celibate God and/or Son of God, Christianity could lose much of its religious appeal. Moreover, the Catholic emphasis on chastity for all, and its requirement of celibacy for its priests, monks and nuns would seem gratuitously harsh. And the Church itself would no longer be Christ’s sole representatives on Earth, since Jesus’ literal blood descendents would have a legitimate claim to “His” legacy.
Despite the Church’s powerful and often ferocious suppression of this story (not to mention it’s suppression of joyful sex and women rights in general), the romantic tale of the marriage of Jesus (House of David) and Mary Magdalene (House of Benjamin) seems to have been passed down over the past couple of millennia in tarot cards and troubadour songs, as well as (so the story goes) in artistic masterpieces like Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, classic novels like Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and provocative cinema like Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ. Now here the story is again, spelled out in easy-to-decipher “code” in the biggest weekend blockbuster opening in history next to Star Wars: Episode III.
And to this I say: Hallelujah! The fact that The Da Vinci Code put Pope Benedict XVI’s white lace panties into such a bunch, that he appointed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa, a former football commentator and possible successor to the Papacy, to do battle with “the lies” and “absurd and vulgar falsifications” of a work of fiction is enough to make me smile like the Mona Lisa. Of course, there’s no historic proof that the individual named Jesus who is described in the Gospels even existed – so both the Catholic Church and the Priory of Sion are probably chock full of poppycock. But really, which notion is more “absurd”: that a man named Jesus had a wife and kids, or that he walked on water and raised the dead?
I can just imagine Pope Bennie secretly wishing Jesus had worn a condom. And the thought of Mel Gibson flagellating himself over his bloody, sicko “Passion of the Christ” being so quickly and easily overtaken by another Jesus movie with the opposite message – I just love it.
But I don’t just love The Da Vinci Code. In fact, I kind of hate it. Not because its characters are superficial, it’s “facts” often specious and its plot line preposterous. Hey, I’m from Hollywood; I’m used to all of that. I don’t even hate The Da Vinci Code because it has very little actual sex. Though I am rather annoyed with it for that reason. There’s barely a kiss between Sophie and Robert. Then there’s Sophie’s unreasonably intolerant, almost puritanical attitude towards her wonderful, loving Grandpère Jacques Saunière (played by Jean-Pierre Marielle in the film), Chief Art Curator of the Louvre and Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. Just because she accidentally walked in on his private, mildly kinky group sex ritual when she was on spring break from grad school, she refused to even speak to him or open his letters for 10 years! I can understand how the sight of old Grandpère doing the nasty surrounded by chanting brethren and sistren could cause a young grad student to balk or even barf. But a decade of cold stone silence, despite his pleas for forgiveness and offers to explain? I’m supposed to sympathize with this uptight, unforgiving little snot in her high-speed pursuit of the Truth?
But indeed, these are mere quibbles, and I don’t hate The Da Vinci Code because of them. I hate it because in the end, it really lets the Church off the hook. WARNING: Do not go any farther if you haven’t yet read the book or seen the movie (which from what I’ve seen of the clips and trailers, adheres to the book like a fundamentalist Christian adheres to the Gospels); that is, if you don’t want me to spoil it for you.
See, in addition to being a pop primer on the Holy Grail, The Da Vinci Code is a modern murder mystery. And as we solve that mystery, in the last part of the book and the movie, Grail buffs like me can’t help but feel slapped in the face. Slapped, in fact, by the cold, paternal hand of the Catholic Church itself. That is, the character who is the most passionate Grail historian turns out to be the evil rotten murderous villain. The Church, which The Da Vinci Code implicates from the beginning until those last critical moments, is ultimately given a pass. The ending suggests that nobody truly murderous comes directly out of the Church (at least not nowadays), only a few misguided, well-meaning fools.
The actual poor shmuck of an albino monk who pulls the trigger, Silas (played by Paul Bettany in the movie), gets off with the “abuse excuse.” That is, he was beaten as a child, so what do you expect? Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina), head of the masochistic Catholic sect Opus Dei, is at first portrayed as a power-hungry hierophant, willing and eager to enable his man Silas to do whatever it takes, even to the point of committing vicious, multiple murders, to get hold of that heathen Holy Grail. But the Bishop turns out to be just a sweet lovable old Man o’ God who didn’t know nothing about no murders. He even gets his 20 million Vatican dollars back from the kindly (and devout) police chief Bezu Fache (Jean Reno), which he then magnanimously donates to the victims’ families.
So, who’s the really bad guy of The Da Vinci Code? Who’s the brains behind all the ghastly murders? Why, the only really likeable character in the book (aside from Grandpère Saunière who gets offed in the first few pages): the eccentric, jovial, filthy-rich, polio-disabled, goddess-loving scholar Sir Leigh Teabing (played by the always impressive Ian McKellen in the film). Teabing is the person who is portrayed as most deeply honoring the feminine principle of life. While Langdon is a stuffy cardboard Harvard hero and Sophie Neveu is a cute but prudish code-cruncher, Teabing is a man of passion, a British bon vivant, wise enough to figure out Saunière’s first secret code “SOFIA” (wisdom). He wants nothing more than to share the Grail of Christ’s humanity with the world, to pull the oppressive veil from the misogynist charade that the Church has perpetrated upon the world for two thousand years. But as the story awkwardly unfolds, this desire to reveal the “truth” is also Teabing’s motive for orchestrating the murders of five people, all of whom take this “truth” to their graves! Not only is this ludicrous and rife with contradictions as a murder motive, it’s also rather insulting to real Grail lovers who come to The Da Vinci Code hoping (if not praying) for a bit of respect.
We are lulled, at first, into following this fairly fast-paced killer-thriller, crescendoing mid-thrill, with Teabing’s revelation to Sophie (whom Grail lovers, by this point, have figured out is a direct descendent of Jesus and Mary Magdalene) that the Grail is the Magdalene. Then the plot unfolds, suggesting that all that provocative but rather sensible stuff coming out of Teabing’s mouth has got to be twisted because, hey, the dude’s a crackpot multiple murderer!
Then, there’s the kicker: the last sequence of the code spells “APPLE.” a word suggesting not the glory of the Grail, but the downfall of Eve. Indeed, it seems to spell out the doomed folly of those, like the cursed villain Teabing, who seek to eat of the Tree of Knowledge or find the Holy Grail. Yes, I know: “Vous ne trouvez pas le Saint-Graal. C’est le Saint-Graal qui vous trouve.” You do not find the Grail; the Grail finds you. So does that mean one should not seek the truth?
If the Vatican wasn’t soiling their ecclesiastical knickers over its “blasphemy,” I’d say The Da Vinci Code was a very clever piece of propaganda for the Church. Yes, it does present Christianity, especially Catholicism, as a two thousand- year-old force of repression, right down to suppressing the truth about its own God. But in terms of the murder plot, the Church gets off scot-free. Of course, the Vatican doesn’t see it this way. Apparently, all that celibacy has rendered them soft-headed, so they don’t realize that The Da Vinci Code ends with a slap in the face for Grail seekers and a big sloppy kiss for the Church.
In the end, Langdon solves his puzzle, Sophie finds her family, Silas the Monk dies piously, Father Aringarosa goes home innocently, and the villainous Teabing goes to jail, crying for the Grail. Ultimately, it’s a Church-positive, family values, handicap-unfriendly message, pitting two intellectuals against each other: the tedious bore versus the passionate pagan, and the bore wins.
I could go on and on about the annoying sins of The Da Vinci Code. And yetwe are all sinners, are we not? And despite my objections, Brothers and Sisters, Lovers and Sinners, I feel that this film is blessed. You don’t have to be a cryptologist to crack this code: Record big box office despite rock-bottom reviews and a vigorous boycott by the Church. The Da Vinci Code is blessed because, at its core, it tells that simple story we long to hear, deep in our monotheistically-damaged souls. Despite its flaws, The Da Vinci Code heralds the Good News: GOD HAS SEX!
Praise the Lord and the Lady.
Dr. SUSAN BLOCK is a sex educator, cable TV host and author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure. Visit her BRAND NEW BLOGGAMY & POST COMMENTS at http://www.drsusanblock.com/blog/blog.asp Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.