The Church of Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code

reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, June 19, 2006


Back when I wrote computer users' manuals, I'd try to break up the forbidding slabs of my pedantic prose by employing an EZ-2-Read Question & Answer format. Watching the similarly structured "The Da Vinci Code," I couldn't help musing about how my tome, "The HP LaserJet Code," would have turned out as a $125 million summer blockbuster:

Audrey Tautou (beseechingly): How do I print in Times Roman? 
Tom Hanks (decisively): Insert the serif font cartridge. 
Audrey (frantically): But the printer's not doing anything! 
Tom (with steely resolve): Try plugging in the power cord.

I'm confident the stars would have delivered my lines with more believability, charisma, and sexual tension than they mustered for screenwriter Akiva Goldsman's didactic dialogue.

Dan Brown's 2003 novel about a Harvard Professor of Religious Symbology (huh?) who unravels Rome's 2000-year-long conspiracy to cover up how Jesus wed Mary Magdalene but then St. Peter stole Church leadership from the Widow Christ, is a knock-off of Umberto Eco's satire Foucault's Pendulum for the terminally literal-minded, whose number is legion, evidently: it has sold 60 million copies in 44 languages.

The Ron Howard-directed version is a monotonous thriller, doomed by its manifest bogusness. Yet, daft esoterica doesn't have to ruin a movie. Both the Rudyard Kipling - John Huston classic "The Man Who Would Be King" and the amiable family film "National Treasure," for example, concern lost treasures of the Freemasons. But good movies don't take their pseudo-lore so seriously. "The Da Vinci Code's" unhinged loathing of Catholicism obliterates its sense of fun.

As Tom Wolfe pointed out in The Bonfire of the Vanities, and the Duke lacrosse team brouhaha has confirmed, there is a tremendous hunger these days for a Great White Defendant to hate. Paul Bettany, who in February's "Firewall" played one of Hollywood's standard-issue villains, a blond BBC-accented bank robber, ups the ante here by portraying the Great Albino Defendant, a blue-eyed, Latin-speaking albino monk, a sort of holy hit man dispatched by the conservative Opus Dei prelature to rub out Hanks and Tautou.

There's potential for self-mockery in lines like "I have to get to a library -- fast!" Unfortunately, the film doesn't even try to earn your willing suspension of disbelief by being entertaining.

It's too busy bludgeoning you into accepting the neo-Gnostic balderdash that Brown lifted from the 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which, in turn, was based on a 1960s hoax by con man Pierre Plantard. He claimed to be King of France by right of descent from the Dark Ages' Merovingian Dynasty, who were, he asserted, the offspring of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. According to forged parchments that Plantard planted in the Bibliothèque Nationale, the Priory of Sion, a cabal of great men like Leonardo Da Vinci and Isaac Newton, has secretly fought the evil Vatican for 900 years to protect the sacred Magdalenian-Merovingian lineage.

In the not-so-shocking climax to "The Da Vinci Code," we discover that one of the characters is Jesus's last living descendent.

This "Holy Blood" hooey is superstition of the grossest sort. Consider how genealogy actually works. Go back 80 generations (2000 years), and your family tree has one septillion slots to fill. If Jesus had any living descendents today, He'd almost certainly have millions of them. The only way there could be just one surviving heir is if the family had relentlessly inbred so incestuously that the latest Merovingian would have three eyes.

Brown's contribution was to appeal to women, the main audience today for novels, by concocting a New Age feminist slant: the Roman Emperor Constantine wrote Mrs. Christ out of the New Testament to subordinate women below the liberated state they'd enjoyed under "the pagans," who worshipped "the Goddess." (Which pagans? Which goddess?) Fortunately, Leonardo and Newton struggled to preserve "pagan reverence for the sacred feminine." (Uh, weren't they a couple of nature's bachelors?)

Although G.K. Chesterton apparently never quite said the most famous line attributed to him -- "When a man stops believing in God, he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes anything" -- it sure applies to the millions of "Da Vinci Code" fans. Evelyn Waugh noted, "Western Christianity, alone of all the religions of the world, exposes its mysteries to every observer," which makes it too egalitarian for modern Gnostics who want the inside skinny instead, even if they have to sit through the 149 endless minutes of "The Da Vinci Code" to hear it.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material, brief drug references, and sexual content.


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