Friday, May 19, 2006

Da Vinci Mythos

After last night’s Da Vinci Code screening, it’s difficult to fully sum up my reaction. Elements of the film I enjoyed quite a bit. The film’s puzzle solving is quite entertaining. You also have to appreciate a film whose characters have passion for history, religion, art, and mathematics. It is beautifully filmed, making a great tourism commercial for the European locations. On the downside, the Hanks and Tautou characters seem wooden on screen. In terms of its biases against the Church, the sins of the film are essentially the original sins of source novel.

I was told the book is actually much more didactic and frequent in its attacks on Christianity’s role in history. In the film, Hanks’ character often provides some skepticism of the anti-Church monologues of Sir Ian McKellan’s Grail enthusiast. Indeed, the villainous “Teacher” as actually played by McKellan is an unhinged anti-Christian bigot (spoiler, by the way).

I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code, but I have read several books in the loose Da Vinci-esque genre for my publishing work. In some of these books there is the reoccurring myth that Pope Pius XII was blackmailed by the National Socialists to ignore the holocaust with the threat of the exposure of a dark secret that would shake Christendom to its foundation. In actuality, Pius worked to save hundreds of thousands from the death camps, as Rabbi David G. Dalin illustrates in his book The Myth of Hitler’s Pope. Unfortunately, this historical libel seems to be accepted as fact by many.

Da Vinci Code and its imitators show how myths are created. The notion of the Church suppressing Mary Magdalene’s role as wife and disciple has probably gained much popular acceptance, through its repetition in the stories we hear and tell. Whether it is The Iliad, the Loch Ness Monster, urban legends, or Joe Wilson’s account of his trip to Niger, some fiction becomes accepted as fact through the power of story-telling. Fortunately, there seem to be no lack of books decoding, debunking, and pouring cold water on the Da Vinci Code to set the historical record straight.

As for the film, it is uneven, but entertaining. I enjoyed it, but ultimately, the sum of its parts might be greater than its whole.