There’s something about Mary
BACKSTAGE PASS - Lanz Leviste () - May 26, 2006 - 12:00am
The Da Vinci Code, in its Hollywood incarnation, tries so hard not to offend anyone that despite the incendiary claims that lay basis for Dan Brown’s bestselling fact-fiction amalgamation, the film verges on the identifiable aseptic starch that flavors many a Ron Howard film. It hardly crosses that line, however: Howard, against the odds of his filmography, manages to craft a thriller that’s somber and talky and erratically rousing; in other words, an incredibly faithful and exact screen translation of the most talked-about novel since the Bible – whoops, I mean, since the first Harry Potter.

Despite the ridiculous calls for boycotts or bans, The Da Vinci Code is an entirely harmless film; claiming The Da Vinci Code is blasphemous is like labeling The Passion of the Christ as anti-Semitic propaganda. Those campaigning against the film maybe should have started three years ago at their local bookstore; their cries in the name of sacrilege and sanctimony, when heard through the vocoder of shameless absurdity, come off as desperate self-righteous BS. To those people, it’s your right, thump your Bibles all you want, but don’t stop me from seeing a film you are offended by. No one’s making you see it. Here’s an idea: stay at home and reread your copy of The Purpose-Driven Life. Please. For everyone’s sake.

It’s infuriating and unacceptable that the MTRCB would give the film an R-18 rating because of "thematic issues raised on the divinity and celibacy of Jesus Christ and the inner workings of the Catholic Church." I will not say Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene, nor will I dismiss the theory; that is a matter of faith and can never be proven. But to restrict moviegoers from seeing The Da Vinci Code on these grounds is almost laughable if it weren’t distressing: These people are choosing what I can or cannot see based on their own personal biases. They say the film’s content "requires mature discernment"; they themselves are the ones being puerile by their irrationality. Do they actually assume I, at 16 years old, would believe that Mary Magdalene’s corpse lies right by the Louvre food court?

And so what if Jesus did get it on? The MTRCB, as well as the many religious groups protesting Da Vinci, thinks such a claim would debase the Church entirely; the devout will turn away, they say, and their faith lost. What they are doing, however, is instead patronizing the beliefs of their own followers, which they assume as flimsy and disposable.

While I wince at the concept of any kind of organized religion, I still respect people who find some form of solace, or acceptance, or goodness out of it. But what these religious groups think is that a movie, starring Forrest Gump and directed by Opie, is reason to stop believing to what they and the Church have to say. To that I say, there are so many more substantial reasons: the hypocrisy, the greed, the hatred, the zealotry, the prejudice. These people are not only condescending, but prove the point that this bizarre country is further plummeting into the dangerously backward territory of fanatic religion-dictated conservatism.

It’s only a movie after all, a work of fiction; it’s by no means an awful movie, but it’s not a perfect one either, particularly in the field of oratorical exposition. While Da Vinci in its novel form suffered from Brown’s broken syntax, the screenplay by Akiva Goldsman is kept intact with graceless dialogue that seems exceedingly difficult to say out loud. Still, Goldsman is clever enough to produce a certain splendor in his characters’ rhetorical theatrics, a uniformed code-of-speech that walks the line between pulp and prestige.

As the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon asked to look into a murder in the Louvre, Tom Hanks is dull and odd and doesn’t give much of a performance. The lovely Audrey Tautou at least tries, but obviously struggles in an English-language role, much more than she did in Dirty Pretty Things; the pair, so engaging in the book, hardly connect onscreen.

The rest of the international cast ham it up just as any knowing thesp with this material would. Especially striking are Paul Bettany who makes a genuinely creepy albino monk, and Ian McKellen as Sir Leigh Teabing, a role he turns into The Da Vinci Code’s meatiest, most splendidly amusing part. Amid the faux-literacy that bleeds urbanity and Hollywood erudition, McKellen has class and is crass; he is hilarious and winning and warm.

While not an artist or master storyteller in any sense, Howard makes pleasing films that convince with considerable, if not earnest, authenticity: the sepia of Cinderella Man’s 1930s Americana; the tweedy academia of A Beautiful Mind; How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ warm and fuzzy candy cane cynicism. The Da Vinci Code, despite thinness of plot and character, still feels dense and rich in some sort of mystery: the final sequence got my heart skipping beats as Hans Zimmers’ score swells to proportions similar to Brown’s excessively bloated prose. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen. For two-and-a-half hours I was completely engrossed; it’s fantastic entertainment you will completely devour, that is, before it consumes you first.

As a huge fan of the book, I absolutely loved the film, and will probably try to get in the R-18 screenings a couple more times to see it. But I am here to examine its artistic achievements on a completely different medium, to which I can conclude, there are very few.

Grade: B-
* * *
For comments, e-mail me at lanz_ys@yahoo.com.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND AKIVA GOLDSMAN AS THE HARVARD AUDREY TAUTOU BUT I DA VINCI DA VINCI CODE FILM MARY MAGDALENE VINCI
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