Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Better In Your Head?--THE DA VINCI CODE

Dan Brown

"So dark the con of man."

Secret societies! Murder mystery in the Louvre!

Jacques Sauniére--museum curator and world's foremost "goddess iconographer"--is fatally shot on by an albino monk named Silas, acting on behalf of the Opus Dei, a Catholic institution comprised of lay persons and priests who believe everyone is capable of reaching sanctity. The group seeks the location of a keystone of the Priory of Sion that, once found, will allow them to accomplish their ultimate goal of destroying the Holy Grail.

A single shot to the stomach left Sauniére with sufficient time to draw a bloody pentacle on his chest, leave a cryptic message in invisible ink on the parquet floor and contort himself in a pose reminiscent of Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. Jacques Sauniére was more than the custodian of the world's most celebrated art collection; he was the last guardian of a powerful secret.

Police identify a man of interest: Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of religious iconography (a real thing) and symbology (not a real thing), in town on business…which had included a meeting with Mr. Sauniére, that the latter failed to show up for. Captain Bezu Fache brings Langdon to the scene of the crime and tries to get him to say that the curator's death is connected to devil worship. Police cryptographer Sophie Neveu shows up and informs Langdon he's a suspect in the death of her estranged grandfather, and the escape from the Louvre is on.

After obtaining a cryptex from a safe deposit box, the pair visit Holy Grail historian Leigh Teabing. He reveals that the Grail is not, as widely believed, a cup. It is a the tomb of Mary Magdalene. The Priory was formed to protect the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Oh yes, Jesus was a father as well as a son. Mary birthed a daughter named Sarah after the crucifixion. This is information known to all POS members, including Leonardo da Vinci, whose most legendary piece, The Last Supper, depicts Mary Magdalene at the right hand of Christ. The absence of a chalice indicates that he knew Mary was the bearer of his blood. Meaning the Holy Grail is what remains of the wife of Christ. Fear of the "sacred feminine"--the belief that women are closer to divinity than men, and that a truly enlightened man embraces his femininity as fervently as his masculinity--has led the Catholic Church to hide the true identity of the Grail while plotting to locate and destroy it, since the revelation would destroy Christianity.

Codes! Chases! Crooked cops! Convolution! Contrivance! The Da Vinci Code is an over-salted pretzel of a plot that's best experienced first-hand. For all the braininess and suspense, the prose is straightforward and even clumsy at times; picturing the pen fumbling from between Dan Brown's fingers a couple of times per page isn't hard, until I remind myself that The Da Vinci Code is a classic case of a novel that was typed, and not written.

As the rare sort of bestseller that shakes the status quo rather than strokes it, The Da Vinci Code received a critical slack that James Patterson (or whoever's actually writing his books now) could only dream of. Further, it became the book to read (or at least, be seen with), providing curious eyes with facts (and "facts") while denying minds the pizzaz of insight.

But, wow, Jesus had sex! And then a baby! Sure, it's a book full of distortions, speculations and prevarications, but we are talking about religion! The "pick a hoax and run with it" school of writing ensures a passionate audience. This cloth-bound bogosity has sold in excess of eighty million copies, and the film rights sold for six million dollars, so at night's dawn, does it really matter that Dan Brown is basically Michael Crichton from an alternate universe?

Great for reading on the beach, with frequent breaks to watch seagulls peck at the inch of uneaten chicken cheesesteak inside the deli wrap sitting precariously atop the mountain of trash in the open bin next to the umbrella rental.

Director-Ron Howard
Writer-Akiva Goldsman

"I have to get to a library, fast."

The Da Vinci Code didn't need a super-director attached in order to be successful. When the announcement came that Ron Howard signed on, any suspicions that it wouldn't bust blocks were squashed faster than a pie under a fat guy's butt.

A big-time actor in the lead role would only sweeten the profit pot. Enter Tom Hanks (with a quite un-Hanksian 'do) as Robert Langdon. The alleged reincarnation of Jimmy Stewart comes off as Indiana Jones sans cool accoutrements. Audrey Tautou approaches the relatively diminished role of Sophie Neveu with the vim and vigor her co-star left in the trailer, easy to root for and lust after, but not even as much as Sir Ian McKellan, who (as Leigh Teabing) shines like a ruby set in the center of a day-old horse frisbee.

Homicidal albino monk Silas is the closest thing to a villain here, and whether we're watching Paul Bettany play him as an adult, or Hugh Mitchell play him as a child, Silas's scenes fabricate a bonafide creepiness and are thus impossible to turn away from.

Behind the camera, Opie uses the viewfinder as a defibrillator. Lots of yakking broken up with car chases. The colors are pretty and the angles are desperate. While I may deride The Da Vinci Code as bloated and preposterous; I certainly cannot call it dull.

The Vatican called for a boycott, and several countries banned the film outright. Protests popped up outside movie theaters. Religion kills and controversy sells, two depressingly dependable adages that powered The Da Vinci Code to stupendous success in two realms. The number two bestseller of 2003 became the second highest-grossing film of 2006, with a worldwide box office of $758 million.

The Da Vinci Code is driven along by a filmic plot, zipping and zagging and zigging on its way to an oddly underwhelming conclusion. I could tell, just from the act of reading, that the big-screen version would likely surpass the text. Needing to make the story easier to digest while not omitting one tasty morsel of Chuch-chafing controversy, Howard and Goldsman streamlined the story to the best of their capabilities, which includes making a trip to the library a matter of life and death.

Few changes were made, nearly all of them wildly insignificant. Watching The Da Vinci Code was, for me, akin to eating a Little Caesar's pizza whilst under the influence of nothing and realizing I would admit to no one else the extent of my gustatory enjoyment; indeed, I could barely admit it to myself. But you know what, at least it was pizza, instead of some crummy calzone. Nod given to the film, and don't you ever ask me to talk about this ever again.

The light source is the love of Christ! Ah-ha!

"His sinews felt taut with exhilaration." And my novel's been refused by close to two dozen agents. Somebody get that old bitch a seeing-eye dog, please.

Dan Brown shows off a vulgar display of knowledge. Did you know it would take five days to truly appreciate every piece in the Louvre? (What constitutes proper "art appreciation," he does not explain.) Did you know that I.M. Pei's ostentatious Pyramide de Louvre contains 666 panes of glass, as per the direction of then-President Robert Mitterand? (It doesn't.) Did you realize the Mona Lisa was Da Vinci's sly reference to the "sacred feminine"? And that the very name "Mona Lisa" is in homage to the Egyptian God Amon and Egyptian Goddess Isis? (Nope, crap. Da Vinci's inspiration is pure speculation, and the painting itself wasn't even called "Mona Lisa" until well after the artist's death.)

Well, at least Brown got the etymology of the world "villain" right. (I love me some accurate etymology.)

The author maintains that the Priory of Sion was/is a real organization and that The Da Vinci Code is based on historic fact and he is totally an intrepid wordsmith. Never mind the numerous articles and books that appeared in the wake of the "Da Vinci phenomenon," calling Brown out. Tom Hanks himself said, "(T)he story we tell is loaded with all sorts of hooey."

What Dan Brown insists to be facts have been widely, intelligently, passionately disputed by historians and scholars worldwide. Some elements of his story are just outright false; for example, there are no monks in Opus Dei. Knowing simply that, prevented me from taking any of this seriously.

Why didn't Jesus ever walk on wine?

The book's observation that the Mona Lisa is smaller than expected (30" x 21") reminded me of my own "Wow, that's it?" moment in a museum. The site: MOMA. The piece: Dali's The Persistence of Memory. The size: 9.5" x 13." The thought: I couldn't even fit my breakfast on that!

Perhaps I'm a finicky reader, but when Brown describes Robert Langdon while the latter is looking in a mirror, I pressed my fingers to my forehead and asked Isis for the strength.

What's the last painting you want to see when you die? Guernica, for me.

Sophie says, "Please, pardon the interruption," and suddenly I hear Tony Kornheiser in my head judging her outfit.

"The Citreon navigated the chaos with authority...." Oh bullshit and apple butter.

I care about religious iconography about as much as cats care about people, but I like looking at pretty things. So, cats would find the Bible boring, but they'd likely be entertained by The Ten Commandments.

The Catholic Church's putrescent fear of women, and sex, as wicked and wrong is hard to argue against. The theory that the suppression of women has led to an "unchecked" male dominance which can blamed for much of the world's troubles is easy to argue for. That religion is the leading cause of death worldwide, foolish to even debate.

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