The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Really, a splendid, cerebral mystery story of a college professor (Tom Hanks) caught up in a centuries-old conspiracy.  If you’ve been under a rock for the last five years, you may not know anything about the story, so this part is spoiler-free.  The performances are a bit dry and sober (except for Sir Ian McKellan, playing a helpfully uber-informative scholar), and the film is necessarily talky at times.  But ultimately, I enjoyed it hugely, and give it a B+.
I am frankly disturbed by the unanimity of critics lambasting this flick, and more disturbed by a bit of familiarity in their criticism.  They say Hanks is wooden, that he and the female lead have no chemistry, that the movie is boring when it should be sensational.

Those words came up so often, in review after review, that it almost felt like someone had handed out talking points to all the major media: “how to kill interest in this dangerous film.”  Dangerous?  I was wrong  yesterday: the movie says (in my opinion) nothing about Christ’s divinity.  Makes no comment for or against.  It doesn’t say he survived his crucifixion, or that he didn’t come back from the dead.  ALL it suggests is that he married Mary Magdalene, and sired a child by her.  And this is what all the furor is about.  Why in the world   this idea triggers more than a “wow!  Think of that!” reaction can only, in my mind, be related to a deep-seated horror of sexuality.  After all, Christ ate, drank, presumably slept—all basic body functions.  Why would sex be any different?  But clearly there is nothing neutral here—this very idea seems absolutely poisonous.  I’m a bit baffled.
But I’ll tell you why I ignored the critics.   I hate to bring this up, but the ultimate point of these words is not to rake up my personal wounds, but to  speak of human nature.

Over the years, I’ve watched critical—and public—reaction to black films vary greatly depending on whether or not those films had sex in them.  And ESPECIALLY if it’s a black man having sex with a white woman.  Overt bigotry is simply not done any more, so no one will say “yuck” in print, and proclaim aloud that black sexuality turns their stomach.  No.  What happens is that, well, the movie is dull.  The  actors have no chemistry.  The acting is wooden…

Familiar?  Now, there is certainly no coordination of these comments I’ve read over the years.  Nobody gets together in hidden rooms and decides how they’re going to deflate a movie.  No.  I think that what happens is that, when a movie image cuts too deep, is too disturbing, the critic (or viewer) looks for flaws in the film.  They pointedly remember they are sitting in a theater, and pop out of the cinematic  reality.  They put down an emotional wall, and from that point everything looks flat, just not quite appealing.  Oh, no, it’s never about the racial images, heaven forbid.  I just didn’t like the movie…

Right.  And that’s what I think is happening here.  This movie is absolutely cultural dynamite.  All over the world, an incredible percentage of potential viewers are aware it exists.  The war for public opinion has begun.  And I think critics are nervous.  They don’t want to come out positively for this movie, perhaps were raised in the Faith, and know that many fellow Christians are deeply offended.  And their minds were eager to find some way to criticize “Code” without seeming to bow to doctrinal prejudice. 

I could be wrong, of course, but damned if I don’t wonder if that’s happening here. 

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