DOASKDOTELL BOOK REVIEW of The Da Vinci Code (Movie review and history channel films), Angels & Demons (movie), Discovery movie: The Lost Tomb of Jesus, The Last Templar

 

Author (or Editor):  Dan Brown

Title:  The Da Vinci Code

Fiction? Yes (!!)

Publisher:  Doubleday  (UK, US, etc)

Date:  2004

ISBN:  0-385-51375-5

Series Name:

Physical description: hardbound, 467 pgs, large pages, illustrated (many other versions including paperback are available now)

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL: religion and sexuality; epistemology

Review:

Leonardo Da Vinci certainly fits our idea of the ideal Renaissance Man. Curious, inventive, practical, brilliant, and apparently charismatic to be around as a young man. Gifted. Yet, curiously sometimes careless and inattentive, unable to complete things. He was many things. On page 50 of this edition, Brown writes that Da Vinci was a “flamboyant homosexual” and fought “a perpetual state of sin against God” despite the public success of his life in historical terms. In fact, he was a member of secret orders, most notably the Priory of Sion, a secret fraternal organization founded in 1099. Da Vinci’s homosexuality is probably difficult to prove factually, but it certainly sounds likely from the historical “circumstantial evidence.”

Of course, we have all heard about the basic premise of this novel, that Jesus married prostitute Mary Magdalene, that she carried his child when he was crucified, and that his descendents live today. So it is pretty reasonable to construct a novel based on what could happen to one of those descendents.

That is one problem. The whole novel presents a fascinating treasure hunt through all the not-so-secret religious enclaves and space in France and later England and Scotland, tracking down the clues. It is set up with a prologue, epilogue, and 105 relatively short chapters as nuggets, each leading to the next point. The plot seems a bit of an afterthought, a vehicle to develop Brown’s theory. It starts when Jacques Sauniere meets a violent and spectacular demise in a secure area of the Louvre in Paris. Professor Robert Langdon is called in and for two thirds of the novel he is a major suspect by the police, so he “must” save himself. It seems a bit of a setup. There is granddaughter Sophie whom he runs around with, and a British aristocrat Leigh Teabing, owning a chateau in France (not an uncommon situation in real life) who can provide a lot of the clues.

Now, this novel does represent “English literature” as we learn the concept in high school. Literature, we learn, relates to the deep-seated issues in any culture. In Britain, authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh of the 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, from Random House, sued Dan Brown and  Random House for publishing Dan Brown's novel; which the original authors claim unfairly expropriates detailed research presented in the earlier non-fiction book. Ideas cannot be copyrighted, but in Britain, at least, there is legitimate controversy about detailed factual research. A judge in Britain (Peter Smith) turned down the plaintiffs on April 7, 2006 and since Britain has loser pays in these circumstances, the plaintiffs could have to pay up to $1.75 million in attorneys fees for both sides. (In the US, "loser pays" applies only in some cases; check with your attorney; there is a movement in general tort reform to encourage its use in the US to stop SLAPP and frivolous lawsuits.)

What of the entire theory? It has several big ideas that lead up to the blood line. One is the equating of Mary Magdalene with the concept of the Holy Grail. Another is the “eternal feminine,” an idea common in the Faust legends developed in operas by Gounod and Boito and in choral symphonies by Liszt and Mahler. That is a bit of a paradox, that Da Vinci himself was so embroiled in a philosophical ploy involving the deepest notions of heterosexuality, the sexual union where one becomes mindless, and yet could have lived the charismatic homosexual male, someone who as a young man would have been the star on today’s disco floor. And even the book’s authorship adds to the controversy, as the novel seems to have been a joint effort between Dan Brown and his own wife. In his discussions about the eternal feminine, he almost seems to predicting Masters and Johnson’s modern book “Heterosexuality,” as a joyous thing, but for 90% of people.

Then you have the Vatican, its ultraconservative organization Opus Dei, and the whole paradox of Catholic thought with a celibate priesthood (which seems to have added so much to today’s scandals – effectively a ban against straights, and now it is trying to ban gays, too). While we all know that there are religious reasons for celibacy and abstinence, the real dichotomy is psychological. Family values and blood loyalty drive the lives of supposedly “normal” people, but at some point the individual breaks away from sexual or even social communion with others and focuses on himself or herself, upon an individual reconciliation with his own potentiality, and with God. But I don't see a contradiction between Jesus's being married and his Friday death, soul and body together, and complete resurrection Sunday, by God. Since he would ascend in the Pentecost, however, it seems unlikely he would have continued to function as a husband in a conventional way of this theory is true.

ABC "Good Morning America" presented a segment on Opus Dei on April 18, 2006. The headquarers is an older building on Lexington Avenue in New York City. Many of the members are women. 10% or priests, 20% are numeraries (who maintain celibacy and abstinecne) and the rest are supernumeraries (who do marry and have children).  Some members wear a prickly brace on the upper thigh. The members present this organization as an exercise of deep faith, and it is somewhat controlling of its membership. GMA will also present the Freemasons and the Knights Templar. GMA also interviewed a real life "Silas" who was quite different from the albino character in the book and movie. 

Despite Brown's rich travelogue of France and England (perennial enemies until less than two centuries ago), he passed up doing anything with the Bayeux area (the Tapestry of the William the Conquerer invasion, as well as the whole D-Day area), or the Jersey Islands, the tax haven-- all of that could have led to some interesting subplotting. All for another novelist or screenwriter (even me). 

The illustrated version reminds one of a reading text in grade school in that one looks forward to the pictures on many pages. The photographs cover most of the controversial religious places in France and England, leading to the Rosslyn Chapel in Edinburgh, Scotland (a major business area in Arlington, VA gets its name from that). Somehow the presentation style reminds me of Hendrik Van Loon and The Story of the Bible (1928), which has many well spaced drawings – though here we have glossy photographs. In a way, the illustrated edition becomes a kind of filmstrip, like what we used to watch in grade school in addition to movies. We don’t see those often any more. (My cousin and I used to actually make them with drawings back in the mid 1950s and show them to family and friends as “movies.”)

National Geographic had a one-hour special about the theory in the book on April 24 2006. It tended to pooh-pooh the theory. Opus Dei does not have "monks" (like Silas), and the Priory may well be a fictitious invention, the program maintains. Nevertheless, the possibility of a bloodline of Jesus cannot be disproved.

That brings me to the real movie, which Sony Pictures/Columbia is due to release May 19.

On Aug. 2, 2006, ABC "Good Morning America" interviewed author Kathleen McGowan, who believes that she is a descendent of the supposed Jesus and Mary Magdalene Line, and who has a novel The Expected One,.  (Touchstone).  

Movie "The Da Vinci Code" (2006, Columbia/Imagine/Brian Glazer/John Calley, dir. Ron Howard, USA/France, 149 min, PG-13; website is http://www.sodarktheconofman.com or http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/thedavincicode/ ). Well, if there was ever a film that deserved Columbia's musical trademark, this is it, but unfortunately the statue of liberty opens with lugubrious music by Hans Zimmer playing through the trademark credits. Actually, author Dan Brown composed some of the music. But to get to the film itself, it is rather like an Alfred Hitchcock advernture-mystery, a treasure hunt, going from one exotic place to another to look for clues. Now, Hitchcock would not have filmed in Cinemascope (Arri lenses here), and would have shot the closeups much tighter. As it is, the movie is both a but loose and dark and claustrophobic, despite all the exotic art and church-related locations. It does start with Silas shooting a curator in the Louvre.  We see a pentagram carved into the victim's hairy chest, which seems defiled. Silas (Paul Bettany) is cast as an albino, as some sort of villain from Opus Dei. He would be attractive if it were not for his self-flagellation of an almost-smooth body, with that horrible cilice gouging the upper thigh.

Now Tom Hanks plays Robert Langdon, the Harvard professor who is summoned from a book signing party to go on the treasure hunt, and he is pretty much his usual Everyman self, who may share in the secret. Sophie is played by Audrey Tautou. Of course, she has a payoff at the end from the plot of the book, and I think everybody knows what it is by now.  Langdon is a bit of a geek in his talk, as when he distinguishes between a "sarcophagus" and an "effigy." Ian MacKellan is Sir Leigh Teabring, the Brit with his tentacles into French civilization and keeper of most of the clues at his chateau, including the 15th Century codex device itself. Interesting how vinegar could prove a low-tech security device. That is one of the more interesting things about the movie, the mixture of computers, cell phones and websites on the one hand, and paintings and codices from 500 years ago that had their own way of security a "right of publicity" for their authors. The chase scenes occasionally distract us, as when a critoen (or is it a scareb?) darts between two trucks.

But the most interesting thing about a movie like this is its meaning. Langdon's book is called Symbols of the Sacred Feminine, which to visitors of my website and books suggests a connection to the "polarity" theory (yin and yang) documented in the writings of Rosenfels and others. Da Vinci himself probably understood all of this. The movie shows the "conspiracy" of the catholic church to protect the "secret" in muted-color flashbacks of battle scenes, such as the "History Channel - like" battles around Jerusalem involving the Knights Templar. The Priory was to guard the secret, while the church went about trying to eliminate the bloodline of Christ, so the story goes. We all know that reputable research in most media sources discredits much of this as just interesting and inventive "fiction." But the Church certainly did all it could to protect is practices, such as simony and the sale of indulgences. The Church had to deal with a certain paradox: the transmission of life through marriage and procreation was to be the holiest of duties, except that some men find it even holier to escape this duty. Maybe these men are part of the "sacred feminine." It is ironic, then, that they would have to discredit the role of femininity, or relegate it to careful management with gender roles associated with biological complementarity. It is Teabring, the Roving Brit (he walks with a cane and Stephen King might have called him a "walking dude") who espouses the idea of total liberation of women and minorities from the strictures of the formal Church.

Visitors will want to check out U.S. News and World Report special movie edition "Secrets of the Da Vinci Code." 

Da Vinci and the Code He Lived By (2005, History Channel, 120 min) is an interesting documentary that would anticipate Columbia’s film “The Da Vinci Code” based on the novel by Dan Brown (due in May 2006). The Code is more Da Vinci’s insatiable curiosity and desire for truth, where science and engineering and logic drove his visionary artistic conception. Born illegitimately, he advanced himself as an “apprentice” in Florence and would survive various political crises in his life.  His idealism and goals, however, would be tested by the political battles of the time. He maintained monumental notebooks that today would have become a huge website; they were about everything.

Da Vinci presented a psychological paradox: demanding of absolute personal autonomy (there is no mention of wife and children), he maintained a curiosity about practical and mechanical things, how they worked, and his artistic conceptions derived from the practical. But he was unable to complete some paintings because of attention problems; he would lose business opportunities, as with the Sistine chapel that finally became the domain of Michaelangelo, whom he met late in life but resented. Da Vinci was arrested at 24 for false sodomy charges which were dropped. It is likely that both artists, however very different their personalities and values, were homosexual. Da Vinci’s life provides an interesting and controversial study of a man’s following his own path regardless of the strictures of family responsibility or perceived social obligations. See my book review of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

 

Understanding the Da Vinci Code (2005, History Channel, 60 min) presents the earlier arguments, from the point of view of Henry Lincoln, author of several books, including “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” (with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, involved in unsuccessful litigation against Dan Brown). Particularly interesting is the arrangement of many churches in Europe along a pentacle, and the possibility that geometry and surveying were much more advanced in the 12th Century than we had thought. The astrolabe would not explain this, and neither would construction by the Knights Templar, who would be destroyed by the Church as heretics. 

 

Beyond the Da Vinci Code (2006, History Channel, 120 min) examines Dan Brown's theories in more detail. One point is that Opus Dei would have no reason to be part of a plot because it does not recognize these theories at all. There is a lot of visual coverage of all of the sites and cathedrals mentioned in his book. A period in the church when the genders were equal is described.

 

Technology writer Bob Weinstein lauds Leonardo da Vinci as the world's "first techie" (and a good role model for entrepreneurial work ethic) in his column in Tech Republic, at http://articles.techrepublic.com.com/5100-10878_11-5025672.html .

 Blogger entry on possible musical composition encoded in "The Last Supper" (book by Giovanni Maria Pala, The Hidden Music” (“La Musica Celata”).)

The sequel to the Tom Hanks "Da Vinci Code" is "Angels & Demons" (2009, Columbia/Imagine, dir. Ron Howard, 138 min), blogger review. Ron Brown was complicit with the serial novel.

The Lost Tomb of Jesus (2007, Discovery/James Cameron, dir. Simon Jacobvichi) is a documentary examining ossuaries discovered underneath the Talpiot Apartments in Jerusalem that seem to have a high likelihood of constituting the remains of Jesus and his family. One theological question would occur with the Resurrection and Ascension, but these seem to be more a matter of mindset. There is also some evidence in the film that Jesus and Mary Magdalene really could have been married and had a son, Judah, unnamed in the Gospel of John, and kept a secret for security from Roman authorities. Even the Talpiot property management did not want the final tomb (originally discovered in 1980) opened, for fear of attracting security problems. The final Passion crucifixion scene is recreated, with Judah and Mary Magdalene pleading to a handsome Jesus on the cross, here with a hairy chest, and hardly as brutalized as in Mel Gibson's famous film. After the movie, Ted Koppel hosted a panel discussion of experts.  Blogspot supplement.

 

Another film about the Mary Magdalene idea coming soon (2008) from Cinema Libre and Bruce Burgess will be Bloodline.

 

The Last Templar (2009, NBC/Universal, dir. Paolo Barzman, novel by Raymond Khoury, rather lightweight miniseries on the same idea, blogger.

Related:  Paul Rosenfels: Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process (book); The 39 Steps (Hitchcock film based on novel by John Buchan)  The Cave (film, mentions Knights Templar)

 

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