Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Another Short Review
Tonight's movie, the DaVinci Code. I did not read the book, though Susan read it (and loved it) and she read some of it aloud to me as she went along, and it sounded well-written and engaging. My antipathy toward "spirituality," particularly where a person's fervor finds a violent outlet, will come as a surprise to no one here, and I suppose I might, in light of the subject matter, be expected to give a scathing review. But I was much more inclined to give a fair shake to this movie than, say, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ" (which I refuse to see). After all, this is a story which, at its fundament, purports to call into question--even if it hides behind a protective layer of fictional license--the verity of tenets by which people have found justification for killing each other for centuries. If anything, the story drives home the absurdity of any claim of literal truth about matters which cannot possibly be known, which is a valuable service performed to humanity.
But that's a side show to what comes off the screen, I feel, as a pretty good yarn. I read so many reviews which could find little kind to say about the movie, and after seeing the film I'm surprised both at this assessment and even more at the vehemence with which it was expressed (at least with reviewers not on Rupert Murdoch's payroll). It seems well-crafted and professionally acted, and is paced pretty well. I don't know if the exposition of matters of symbology holds water completely, but there's a fair bit of detail which flashes on screen as the plot unfolds, and the story whisks along. I guess one just has to have a little faith! There is the standard criticism of how much of the book--which it takes one eight hours to read--must be left out of a story which we now have get told in two and a half hours. But that's not the movie's fault, and the condensation seems skillfully enough accomplished (at least to one who doesn't really know what was cut--there's no phantom limb, as it were, conspicuous by its absence). It's not hard to see how a fascination with secret societies and with shadowy rituals and protective encryption follows the story.
The profound part of the story for me is not the proposition that the foundation of the modern church rests nowhere near bedrock. I mean, resurrection? Virgin birth? People navigating to a town by following a star? (try that sometime!) Miracles? Faith healing? Angels? Ghosts? (To say nothing of the Old Testament nuggets like arks and instructive stone tablets from a god and the parting of oceans and so on.) Please. No, what works here for me is the advanced simian aspect of the struggle for status and power, and the mechanisms we use to achieve these ends. Human history, ancient and modern, is all about people with great ambition and rapacious egos who lie and manipulate and distort and persuade--and maneuver themselves to positions of advantage (I believe it was Stephen Pinker in "How the Mind Works" who suggested that from an evolutionary standpoint we are failing if we do not maximize--even with criminal acts, in certain cases--the advantage we might gain from our available resources). Without science, which by its very nature cannot be the source of a single group's lock on power (at least not if it is to remain science), we are bound by our instincts to compete and vie for primacy against rival clans. In the case of humanity, knowledge is power, and church history is very much one of controlling the flow of information, of one group protecting its in-the-know status by force against similar claims of other people. This aspect of human nature is laid pretty nakedly before us.
So whether or not one grants any part of this story a very firm foothold, it's still a story which plays out on a stage which we can all relate to very deeply. It's a story of loyalty and conviction with a bit of detective work thrown in, a story which touches on life and death and on the foundation stones of humanity and civilization. Not a bad way to spend a couple hours.