Sunday, May 21, 2006

Decoding Da Vinci

Today we're devoting our cafe church to the Da Vinci Code phenomenon, so last night a group of us went to see the film.

I guess it's true to say that I had low expectations - and they weren't disappointed. The cast struggled with a leaden script and director Ron Howard's decision to play it absolutely straight rather than camping it up a bit. So the cardinals behaved like board members of dull multinational and all the policemen were plods who couldn't see what has happening in front of their eyes.

It all meant that Hanks and Tautou as the two leads spent the entire movie running, driving or catching their breath with a look of complete bafflement on their faces. I'm not sure if they were baffled by what was happening to them or why they were being asked to serve up such clunking dialogue.

Needless to say interest in the book and film has focused on what it alleges about Christian origins and in particular the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the suppression of any reference to that relationship by the Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicea.

It's a theory so full of holes that one barely knows where to begin in refuting it. Many more intelligent Christians have done the job very well. The best things I've read are the two Grove booklets by Steve Hollingshurst and Tom Wright (available as ebooks from and Robin Griffith-Jones The Da Vinci Code and the Secrets of the Temple. Griffith-Jones is master of the Temple Church in London, one of the locations of the book and film.

The book's power is undoubtedly rooted in our culture's taste for conspiracy, coupled with its distrust of institutions and their 'official' stories and explanations. The more the church defends its position, the more the conspiracy theorists argue 'they would say that wouldn't they; it's evidence that they've got something to hide.'

It's the laughable treatment of the history of the early church that really irks me, the suggestion that it was a powerful, all-conquering institution able to suppress documents and movements it disapproved of. The Roman church really wasn't in this position until the high Middle Ages - say from the 12th century.

The suggestion, for instance, that the council of Nicea settled the date of Easter is rot. It was an issue still being debated between various parts of the church in the early 7th century, at the synod of Whitby for example. It still wasn't really settled when the schism between the Western and Eastern Church happened in the 10th century which is why Orthodox countries celebrate Easter at a different date from Western Christians.

It's a small point, I know. But it's indicative of a slipshod handling of history by Dan Brown and his sources - especially Baigent, Liegh and Lincoln in their hugely entertaining and in places hysterically funny The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail.

It struck me that the film - for obvious reasons - simplified the 'history' to the point of making it a strident and harsh-sounding propaganda for an anti-Jesus movement. Leigh Teabing, as played by Ian Mckellen, is a deeply unsympathetic character, motivated by a settled hatred for the stories of orthodox Christianity and prepared to do anything to bring down the church that preserves that story. He was more subtle and complex than that in the book - not that any of Brown's characters have much depth or complexity.

Comments are always welcome. I'll tell you how cafe church went tomorrow.

No comments: