THE DA VINCI CODE

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


                  “The Da Vinci Code” opened to a puzzling mixture of anticipation and criticism.  Is it a wild ride through the imagination, or is it blasphemy?  The controversy escalated after the opening when the head of Opus Dei, the secret society of the Catholic Church, confirmed the organization’s practice of self-flagellation.  This intriguing wisp of authenticity may be the only part of Dan Brown’s speculation that can be proven, and therein lies the fun.  

                As for the secular criticism, there is nothing as powerful as 40,000,000 readers to bring out the egos of literary types, critics, and intellectuals.  They are rushing to the movie, knives drawn, so they can enhance their reputations as thinkers who refuse to be part of the crowd.   “The Da Vinci Code,” the movie, asks only that we be absorbed by its suspense.  Does it succeed?  You bet it does. 

What is more enticing than a mystery rooted in possibility?  Is the divinity of Jesus open to question?  Might he have been a mortal philosopher?  Exactly who is that figure in “The Last Supper?”  Who was Mary Magdalene?  No one can ever know.  That’s where faith comes in.  So it’s fair game, isn’t it, for Mr. Brown to imagine alternative answers to those questions, especially when we are roaming through the Louvre with the paintings in question hanging right there on the walls before us.   

The plot is densely packed, leaving very little room for acting.  This strands Tom Hanks (as Robert Langdon) and Audrey Tautou (as Sophie Neveu) in a sea of words.  They do a lot of staring (transfixed), reacting (upset), driving (fast) and running (quite well).  There does not seem to be either a natural or a conjured connection between the two actors.  So it is left to Ian McKellen (as Leigh Teabing), who never acted in a movie he didn’t enjoy, to raise the pleasure of the whole thing. 

McKellen is wondrously unpredictable as he makes the nature of the Holy Grail our focus for two hours.  While Hanks and Tautou don’t seem quite sure whether to take the script seriously, Mr. McKellen latches on to the suppositions and adventure of the historical thriller with glee.  Consider the elements:  a Harvard professor of symbology, a secret society of the Catholic Church, a French cryptologist, codes, puzzles, clues, self-flagellation in the name of Christ, a high tech Swiss bank, the Louvre – all of them forming the visual background for the chase among the police, the Church, and the codebreakers.  Come on, people – that’s fun.

                If author Dan Brown’s theories are true, the killing done through the centuries in the name of God would no longer be necessary – but no need to go there in a movie review.  That’s the fun of the story.  Where one person sees a suspense thriller, another may choose to take Brown’s twists and turns further into the imagination.  We are still free, for the moment anyway, to imagine whatever we wish.


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