The Da Vinci Code: Movie Follow-up

(If you haven’t yet, read my long, philosophical review of The Da Vinci Code)

I saw the movie a few days ago, and so I thought I’d make a short list of some important ways that it was different than the book:

  • The movie’s plot was less complicated.
  • Langdon was more of a spineless religioid. (In the book, he knew about, and believed, the Priory’s story. In the movie, he calls it a “myth”, tacks “according to the Priory myth” on the end of all his statements, and argues unconvincingly about it with Teabing–using much the same arguments as moviegoers would expect frustrated Christians to use). Ultimately he comes across as having gone on a journey of personal discovery, which is not at all the character of the book.
  • Bezu Fache was more of a religious fanatic, and a forensic dupe (as opposed to the brilliant, hard-as-nails police captain from the novel).
  • Teabing was a much more lively character than I would have assumed from the book.
  • The conclusion, especially regarding Sophie’s family, was far less satisfying.

Apart from the Teabing bit, all of these were disappointments. The one change I really liked about the movie was the part where Robert finds the seal under the sign of the rose in the keystone. It is covered with “mysterious writing” (in reality, just English written reflectedly). In the book, the characters agonize for a long time over its deciphering. But it is quite clearly (there’s a picture in the book) English. In the movie, Robert takes one glance at it and says, “We need a mirror,” as any non-catatonic English-speaker would. So it cleared up one embarrassment.

Now, mostly what I want to talk about is two broader-picture statements which occurred in the movie explicitly but not in the book. As we will see, it’s to Dan Brown’s credit that he didn’t write such laughable dialogue into the novel. (Or if he did, it was done in such a way that I missed it).

First, there is a statement Ian McKellen’s character (Leigh Teabing) makes after the argument over the truth of the Priory myth. He says:

As long as there has been the one true God, there has been killing in his name.

The statement, of course, is true. But it’s only an interesting statement in light of another proposition, which I take here to be necessary and implicit, namely that (a) if we hadn’t “invented” the one true God, there would have been no religious killing. Or, (b) if we “de-invent” God, there will be substantially less killing. Or, what would be most absurd, (c) if we were polytheists, we wouldn’t kill people.

Obviously, none of those statements come anywhere near true. The fact is that, while religion does spawn its fair share of killing, it is only insofar as religion is being used by those with power to kill those they don’t like (for, I’m certain, fundamentally non-religious reasons). In other words, the base motive for religious killings is the same as the base motive for any other type of killing–but the word “God”, like the word “patriotism” or the words “national security”, gets mouthed as a way to spin deaths so that they seem less barbaric, less arbitrary, and less for a certain party’s benefit.

Pay attention: when the wizard behind the machine of war is finally revealed, we will all stare, not into the face of some lie about God’s existence, but into our own hearts, and our own lust for power and control.

So it is strange to me how often I run across people who are saying, in one form or another, that many of the world’s great ills are somehow caused by God (the idea of God, that is, according to them). I feel it is strange not because the data don’t support such a supposition, but because it is so obviously a superficial reading of the data. I can’t believe anyone would put it forward who has taken a serious and hard look at human nature, religious or areligious.

Now to the second quote from the movie. It was a bit longer, so I’m sure I’ll get it wrong and this is more of a paraphrase. But it went something like this (when Teabing is trying to convince Sophie to “reveal herself” as the heir of Christ, in order to bring the secret truth of the Priory to the world–Teabing is talking):

Sophie, you have the power to take thousands of years of bloodshed, and the oppression of women, and racism…with this one act you can make it all go away, put everything to rights at last!

I have a hard time imagining the script writer thinking that such a statement would come across as anything but naive absurdity. Again, the basic fallacy is the same: no doubt Christians have collaborated in all kinds of evil schemes involving bloodshed, the oppression of women, and racism. But that is not to say in the least that ridding the world of Christianity would rid the world of any of those ills. No–unfortunately, evil can transform any system into a guise, a front for its operations. Women were oppressed because evil men wanted power, not because men where Christians. It just so happened, even if the correllation is true (which it’s not, really) that Christian language could be used in the mouths of evil men just as easily as any other kind of talking.

Again my worry is that somehow, after seeing the movie, people will think there is some basis to such a lame duck of an analysis of the history of evil over the past 2000 years. I mean, I can certainly see the appeal of a scapegoat. But we need to be aware that the cause of oppression, racism, and war is not some system that has a name and that we can topple–no, the cause is us. It’s the ones perpetrating the injustices, and the ones letting it go on happening. Of course, we will use whatever is at hand to justify evil action and inaction, even if that is Christianity (as it was apparently used to keep slaves in America from trying for freedom). But were Christianity not around, we would just use something else.

(Side note: maybe that’s where a post-modern, deconstructionist methodology could actually aid us–it is very good at laying bare the hidden motives of people and systems, and the flow of power.)

Anyway, that’s that for my Da Vinci Code kick. I just thought it was a good opportunity to take on some of the more silly things that people think (enough people, apparently, for those philosophical memes to have trickled down into mass media). Also, it was fun to actually write about something besides myself for a while. Hopefully the trend will continue!

Update: found a great review of the movie in the New Yorker…check it out!

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

2 replies on “The Da Vinci Code: Movie Follow-up”

Maybe you should do this type of extensive evaluation on The Givenchy Code. Just a thought.,

The Givenchy Code: “a heel-breaking adventure in code-breaking that will bring out the math geek and the fashionista in you.”

That sounds stunningly awesome! I’ll get on my analysis right away.

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