Watching The Da Vinci Code

The release of The Da Vinci Code inspired vast amounts of pretension. Every mention of it was prefaced with a side remark about the book’s “terrible writing style”, followed by sarcasm regarding Ron Howard and mainstream blockbuster hollywood capitalist manipulative blah wanky blah. I had to go see it. Spoilers follow…

I thought it was ok. Certainly not the disaster you’d expect from the headlines. I do wonder how many critics made up their minds before seeing it. The first twenty minutes were perhaps a little scrappy, but after that it settled into a decent rhythm and kept the tension going.

The script stuck to the book’s plot, but did make a few key changes. The exposition of the central conspiracy included some new skeptical remarks by Robert Langdon character, and I’ve read enough debunkings of the novel’s premise to see that they were appropriate. Even though the conspiracy turns out to be true, within the film, this extra examination of the historical basis was sensible, I think.

Unfortunately, there was also a fair amount of sucking up to religion. In the book Robert Langdon was, if not quite atheist, certainly hostile to organised religion. In the film he’s a lapsed catholic and, although tempered slightly, his final speech about feeling that he wasn’t alone when stuck in the well was classic backtracking. I’ve had a quick look and can’t find this in the book, although there must be some explanation of the claustrophobia, I guess. Sophie’s healing hands and saving of a drug addict were completely new, as far as I can tell, and a very weird addition that doesn’t make much sense within the plot. The whole point was that Jesus was non-divine, surely?

Having read the book, it was hard to tell how well the film revealed the details of the conspiracy. The facts necessarily flew fast and furious for a while, but I think that’s a limitation of film. A book can slowly reveal the facts over a few chapters, but a film can’t afford to devote too much time to background, so has to get it over with quickly. They just about got away with it, I thought, although there were a couple of lines that only made sense if you knew some of the background. There was no real explanation of the sex rite that Sophie witnessed, which was odd. I wonder whether that was cut in editing.

Even though the ending was a cop-out, for a mainstream film to criticise the basis of a major religious faith is a brave move. Even though its premise has no basis in fact, it helps to remove the taboo surrounding what can and what cannot be discussed, and that can only be a good thing.