The DaVinci Code opened here Friday, as it did everywhere else in the world, apparently, and since I’m free to attend matinees these days, I felt the call.
I assume you read it and you agree with me that the book is the kind of thing you feel you ought to feel ashamed to be reading but can’t put down. The movie was similar. A thriller that has you sitting back in your seat. And enjoying. Hard to concentrate on because you’re wondering why Tom Hanks has such bad hair. Audrey Tautou is marvelous to watch, as always. Ian McKellen is laughing all the way to the bank for being given a role in which he gets to be a clown of a character, an actor capable of good Shakespeare playing bad slapstick. Bad bad churchmen. Albino madman. Heroic figures chasing through the countryside only inches ahead of bad cops. What’s not to love? I upset people next to me when I got into a near-laughing jag at the line, “But you’re the last living descendant of Jesus Christ!” delivered deadpan. Apparently, they were afraid they might not learn of the location of Mrs. Christ’s tomb. Mrs. Jesus, nee Magdalene, to be more accurate, since the Church, turns out, is wrong about his being the Christ. She is buried either in France or in England. One should not scoff when learning is taking place.
Read Frank Rich’s editorial in today’s New York Times about how the Christian right has been duped by the makers of this film into supporting it, not unlike the way they were suckered into trashing Abramoff’s Indian casino rivals for him. What a romp, this latest whack at the clueless. They’ve finally done it — or so it would appear — the Republican rats are leaving the sinking ship and hanging these morons out to dry. O tempora, o mores. O Pity they couldn’t have done it with more panache.
On the surface, DaVinci Code’s object of scorn is Opus Dei, that group some like to call a fascist organization that illustrates how tradition in the Catholic Church can glove an iron fist of power, abuse and arrogance, and put the church on the wrong side of humanity right into modern times. Whether it, like Legionaries of Christ, is a cult or an innocent, if secretive, lay organization is highly controversial, inside as well as outside of the Church. Its detractors love to point out its support of Franco. Its supporters will tell you only 8 of some 116 ministers in the Franco government were Opus Dei folk, and it was more that Franco supported Opus Dei than the other way around. In any case, Opus Dei’s stance against divorce, abortion, euthanasia, gay marriages, and contraception, its insistence that one’s beliefs must be reflected not only in observing the sacraments but in working in the world to further the Church’s power and influence have raised lots of suspicion and opposition. Whether those positions are “just another opinion” or sinister as hell depends on whether you’ve been whacked as a gay man or woman or as a woman forced to have a child or whether you’ve had to watch someone live out a life of agony against their will.
The film (and the book’s) great weakness to some is its strength to others: its geeky complexity. There is so much information that requires exposition that the film is like watching one of those dumb-ass commercials where Mrs. Homemaker asks her grocer a question about a laundry detergent, listens to the answer and then ends up continuing the explanation for the audience. Endless periods of talking heads punctuated by a chase here, a horror flick appearance of a bad guy there.
Actually, there is one terribly clever thing about this whole business. While the movie makes you think the bad guys are bad guys within the Church and not the Church itself, you soon realize that’s only a ruse, and the real aim is a Gnostic attack on the patriarchal power of the Church. The subterfuge is carried out right in front of you, in other words, mirroring the many double-thinks of the plot.
Anyway, Opus Dei takes it in the ear in this movie. Unfortunately, as one critic put it, the whole treatment is so uninspired they may end up making recruits instead.
Meanwhile, in the Real World, Opus Dei has reared its ugly head in the person of an “Equality Minister” in Britain, making you wonder whether we’re witnessing the last death throes of the Blair government. Could there ever be a better example of the fox appointed to guard the henhouse? Actually, there was one Italian bounced off the European Commission for something similar. Ms. Kelly, however, is still hanging in there and the debate is on over whether that’s a good thing.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,17129-2173603,00.html (for the article)
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/section/0,,564,00.html (for the debate)
If you’re still reading, you’ll note I’ve wandered from The DaVinci Code entirely and gone on to the topic of the Opus Dei. That’s as it should be. There’s nothing in the movie except a good romp if nothing is worth watching elsewhere, you don’t have enough money for a good meal out and you’re tired of sex. Opus Dei, now that’s another story. Keep your eye on these people.
Frank Rich’s review wandered in the same way. Something about the DaVinci Code that suggests even while you’re focused on it your mind is elsewhere.
May 29, 2006