Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Da Vinci Code

In the news today are reports of protests and calls for boycotts of the opening of the Da Vinci Code. Thailand, the Phillipines, Singapore, India, Greece. Probably the US Midwest too, somewhere. Hindu India has put a hold on the release (because in a country of 1 billion people, they've received 200 phone calls!). Even conservative Muslims in some countries have joined in the protest, I guess to help smooth over some of the excesses of the cartoon controversy and possibly to show some open-mindedness. They're saying nobody should ever be allowed to say anything against anybody's religion. Like I said, open-mindedness.

It's kind of funny, really. The media keep interviewing the actors and directors about the controversy. And I admire them all for keeping a straight face, giving solemn answers, refraining from rubbing their hands in glee. I mean, you can *buy* advertising like that.

I'm living proof. I normally wouldn't go to see a thriller. Heck, I normally wouldn't get out to see a movie at all. I didn't even go see The Passion of Christ (I hate when I already know the ending). But I'll probably go see the Da Vinci Code. I want to see what all the fuss was about. I've watched so many documentaries and newscasts and skimmed enough of my husband's copy of the book when he isn't reading it that now I'm intrigued. What a cool idea for a movie.

You see, advertising in action.

The advertisers -- I mean, the protesters -- are conservative Catholic, fundamentalist evangelical, and orthodox. They say that the movie disseminates an untruth, that it will poison people's minds, that it shows disrespect for their religion.

I say it's a movie, people. It's Hollywood. And I think deep down the protesters know that. You'd have to be living in the Pleistocene not to be aware that movies are entertainment. Nobody walked out of Jurassic Park looking for dinosaur eggs to hatch. Nobody protested that Honey I Shrunk the Kids was going to poison kids' minds about relativity. Movies are about the "willing suspension of disbelief." We all get that -- and so do the protesters. So I don't think that's what this protest is all about.

I don't buy the disrespect for religion argument either -- it seems too weak somehow. Does anyone really believe that respect for your religion mean that I'm not allowed to read books or watch movies about whatever my religion-slash-ideology is? I suspect these are just handy slogans to print on protest signs, maybe to drum up a bit of sympathy. They imply that this is a human rights issue somehow, that the protesters are victims of religious intolerance. It's kind of pitiful bleating, to my way of thinking.

But I'm not saying that they shouldn't be angry. They should. I mean, they really, really should. But I think they should be more clear about what they're angry about. Maybe they're not really clear themselves. So I'm going to say it here.

Here's my point -- The arrival of this movie on this theme at this period in our cultural evolution is not exactly an accident. Directors like Ron Howard take on movies that they know people are ready to see, maybe even hungering to see. This movie is not about what Jesus and Mary M did or didn't do, because in the modern world, who cares? The story is a direct attack on the conservative religious mindset. It's a howling of rage against the stranglehold that theology has had on truth. Never mind whether that truth is true, or whether it's a fiction, or whether people will believe it or not, or whether it will make our hands fall off. Stop looking at the plotline and look at the faces.

In this story, fundamentalism is the enemy. Opus Dei is the enemy. Theological suppression of truth is the theme. In this story, fiction and truth battle each other -- and it's orthodoxy that is the fiction.

This is no accident. There is a starkly modern theology to this movie. It says that truth is more holy than books and doctrines. That those who hold themselves up as holy often do so to the point of becoming evil. That a Jesus who was earthy and real is more sacred and believable than a Jesus who was starchy and pure. That fundamentalism and unquestioning orthodoxy is evil. That apostates are heroes. That the pervasive religious ideology of this age is truthful, curious, natural, human.

It's this unspoken message in the movie that should make conservatives shudder.

But I think what really makes them take to the streets is their dread of seeing themselves on the screen. Who would want to be portrayed as being cunning, power-hungry, and darkly efficient? Who would want to see themselves presented as the arch enemy of modern civilization, the stiflers of true inquiry, the upholders of ancient lies?

That's gotta hit a nerve or two.

But it ain't the sort of thing you'd want to put on a protest sign, now, is it?


At 11:16 AM, Blogger Philip Booth said...

I went to the advance screening last night.

I was underwhelmed, and several critics (including me) chuckled out loud at the biggest "revelations."

Really, it was kind of dull and occasionally quite silly.

I posted my review on my site, Scribe Life.

At 5:01 PM, Blogger earthfreak said...

I read the book a while ago, probably won't see the movie. I was amused recently that someone was suing the author because the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had been married was "his" - as if it hasn't been floating around for a long time.

OOOh, did I just give something away??? I can't remember.

Very Good points, Nancy. I think I laughed out loud when I heard some were demanding a disclaimer that the movie was "fictional" - oooh, there's a concept, a fictional movie, never seen one of those before.



At 1:39 AM, Blogger Johan Maurer said...

I liked Brian McLaren's thoughtful commonts on this film in the online Sojourners newsletter. (It's here — but you might have to register to read it.

At 6:15 AM, Blogger david said...

Me? I find the hype a turn-off. Its not like the Jesus-bonked-Mary thesis hasn't been kicking around for a while. Like you say its teh thought of conspiracy that's new.

But the hype and the hype to sell and the thought churches are actually buying into this thing that makes me shudder.

And in the end -- the churches should be in a conspiracy to bring down Western civilization. That is in our job description after all.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Richard said...

While it is just a book and just fiction (despite Dan Brown's assertion at the front that everything described is factual), there are many who are unable to seperate fact from fiction. I was intrigued to read the book because while taking some books out of the library on the seedier side of the Catholic Church, the librarian asked me if I had read the DaVinci Code. I replied no (I tend to stay away from popular pulp fiction - sci-fi is another matter though :-)

Anyway, she said that after reading it, she had lost her faith. Now I was intrigued, because I thought it was a work of fiction - but maybe I was mistaken. I had to wait 10 weeks to get my copy from the library. It is an easy read - it took me 3 evenings.

It is roughly divided into three parts - the intro (which is unbeliveable), the thesis (which is a little factually challenged), and the climax (which was actually quite good).

That said, there is a not insubstantial percentage of the popuation that seems unable to think critically and discern between fact and fiction (I have enountered seemingly bright people who seemed to believe that what they saw in the media was actually true - fiction or otherwise. How else can you explain the ready acceptance of people to follow their leaders into unjust wars?)


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