28: Dan Brown Lite
Many of you by now are tired of the Da Vinci Code. Allow me one last fling – a comment about the movie.
Dan Brown the thinker; Dan Brown the influencer of popular culture is virtually absent in the Da Vinci Code film. Having sold the rights for a tidy sum, Brown also relinquished his ideological power over the film. We thus have two Da Vinci Codes.
Is Brown, as a thinker, important? His novel describes the Pope as engaged in “the rejuvenation of Vatican doctrine and updating Catholicism into the third millennium” (149). Brown, I believe, sees himself in this role. He claims to be a Christian of “a non–traditional sort, where faith is a continuum…following [his] own path of enlightenment.” Brown is “very proud” of his work as “a book about big ideas…” Theologically, Brown has become an outspoken proponent of the belief that Christianity is, at bottom, the same as all the other religions. Spiritually, Brown has become a Gnostic, seeking mystical “enlightenment.” This clearly–expressed agenda drives his promotion, in novel form, of an–anti biblical, Gnosticized, “rejuvenated” Christianity.
In ideological power, the movie is but a shadow of the book. Akiva Goldsman, the script–writer, surely heard about Brown’s howlers and devised a cover–up. In the novel, Teabing declares that “until that moment in history [the council of Nicaea in 323 AD], Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet” (p. 233). In the movie Teabing lamely observes that until that moment “many” disciples did not believe that Jesus was divine. This is hardly earth–shaking information. Any student of history knows that the Council of Nicaea met to deal with the heresy that denied the divinity of Jesus. So the movie makes vacuous observations about a well–known fact of history and is silent about the really big claim–which is what makes Brown’s speculations so unsettling for many–that those who wrote the New Testament hijacked Jesus from his original Gnostic disciples.
The movie, following the book, claims to reveal a secret that will confront the church with “a crisis of faith unprecedented in its two millennia of history.” The claim sputters like a wet firecracker. The “greatest cover–up in human history” — the “immense secret” — that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene who bore his child– is supported by the weakest of historical evidence:
- two Gnostic “gospels,” part of a theological system that rejects the very idea of childbirth and marriage, composed two hundred years after the death of Jesus, containing a few ambiguous statements about a special relationship between Mary and Jesus, with not one hint of marriage or of a physical seed;
- a clandestine society supposedly guarding this secret – The Priory of Sion–which was actually formed in 1956, but falsely claimed to go back to the time of the first crusade, a thousand years after the death of Jesus. Not one ancient document of this supposed society, proving the “secret” has ever been produced;
- a speculative and subjective interpretation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, painted a millennium and half after the death of Jesus, that, on its own terms, also gives no indication of Mary’s marriage to Jesus or her pregnancy.
With such flimsy “evidence,” and lacking any of Brown’s original passionate attack on the New Testament accounts, the movie’s case gets not much higher in probative force than that of the totally forgettable National Treasure–with a lot fewer special effects! In the movie, Langdon even says: “Maybe there is no proof.”
So far as a radical read of history is concerned the movie has lost its nerve.
Brown’s case for a paganised, rejuvenated form of Christianity is equally toned–down. In the novel, Brown pounds home that “nothing in Christianity is original…virtually all the elements” were “taken directly from earlier pagan religions.” In the movie these themes are muted, mere sidebars of an action–focused story. The movie gives us flowery platitudes about all religions being mere opinion; that faith in anything is good; and that the divinity of Jesus can be boiled down to the question, without an answer, as to whether all humans are finally divine.
So far as a statement of radical theology is concerned, the movie never finds its apostate soul.
This version of The Da Vinci Code, lacking any clear ideological message, and failing to provide any inspiring sense of heroism to grip the viewer’s imagination, drops on us with a dull thud. This really is “just a movie,” doubtless succeeding in extinguishing the rising furor around The Da Vinci Code phenomenon. However, while Howard’s movie will disappear into the Hollywood sunset, Bron’s fire–cracker book, which is not “just a novel,” will still remain. Indeed, Brown will be back with other agenda–laden “spiritual” books with which we will have to contend.