Sense of Wonder: A Look Back at The Protocols of the Da Vinci Code

The films murderous monk

The film's murderous monk

Cinefantastique has a long tradition of inclusiveness when it comes to defining the genres it covers. Most recently, we reviewed the mystery-thriller ANGELS & DEMONS because its plot is built around an anti-matter bomb, which technically makes the film science fiction. Having opened the door on the universe of Dan Brown’s novels, and the films adapted from them, I thought I might as well re-post this rant that I composed upon viewing THE Da VINCI CODE in 2006. Maybe I over-stated the case back then, but I think my points are valid, so I left the prose untouched.

I saw THE DAVINCI CODE the other night, and I must say my reaction was one of continuing amazement that Hollywood would make such a piece of crap. Sure, it’s polished and slick — even entertaining at times — but it is also relentlessly stupid and even offensive.

Two things struck me:

  1. Although I don’t support calls to ban the film, Catholics are right to be offended. In fact, you could not get away with making a film that treated Judaism in a similar manner — it would be universally derided as anti-Semitic.
  2. I hate movies when I have only a very limited knowledge of the subject matter — and yet it is abundantly clear that I know more than the filmmakers.

On ther first point, I kept wondering why it was okay to slander Catholics with such impunity. It’s impossible to imagine a major Hollywood studio making a movie in which a Jewish secret society hired some hulking homicidal albino to kill off a bunch of innocent people in order to advance a religious agenda. But really, if you’re going to make a film like DAVINCI CODE, why not follow up with a film adaptation of THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION, portraying a nefarious worldwide Jewish conspiracy? Sure, it would be offensive, slanderous, and stupd — but how much more so than DAVINCI CODE?

As to the other thing about the film that ticked me off, I’ll elaborate by saying that my Biblical knowledge consists of having grown up in a Catholic family where my parents stopped making us go to church after our first communion. Since then, I read the occasional article and watch a documentary now and again on the History channel. Yet I was rolling in the aisle with laughter when THE DAVINCI CODE had its characters expounding on the Council of Nicea and the alleged attempt to debase the reputation of Mary Magdalene.

If you do Google search for “Cracking the DaVinci Code,” you can probably find lots of scholarly rebuttals to the nonsense advanced in Dan Brown’s book and repeated in the film adaptation. I haven’t finished the book yet, my impression is that the film downplayed some of these elements or at least added some lip-service acknowledgement of contrary theories, in order to make a pretense of a “balanced” view. But that doesn’t negate the essential silliness of the whole idea.

We’re supposed to believe that Jesus, a Jewish prophet who was later embraced by his followers as the Messiah and the Son of God, actually wanted to found a pagan-influenced church that worshipped the Goddess (or the Divine Feminine, if you prefer), the worship consisting of (briefly glimpsed) sexual rituals.

We’re also supposed to believe that Jesus was married to Mary Magdelane and wanted her to carry on his church after his death. But Peter and the apostles apparently took over and edged her out of the operation, creating the Christian relgion we know today.

Except that’s not quite it, either. Actually, the film blames the Roman Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicea for creating Christianity as we know it — hundreds of years later.

This is so absurd it barely warrants comment. Christianity was already established by this time, but it was made up of different factions that emphasized different interpretations. All the Council of Nicea really did was formalize a a sort of basic common ground shared by the different groups.

Thus, the New Testament has not one but four different gospels, which differ in some respects quite a bit from each other. This hardly are resembles the work of a group crushing dissent and sanctioning only one narrow view of Christianity.

The evidence for THE DAVINCI CODE’s dubious claims about Mary Magdalene, we are told, lies in the Gnostic gospels that were excluded from the Bible at the Council of Nicea. What we’re never told is why we should accept these Gnostic gospels as true. These are just alternate interpretations of the life of Jesus that were created by small cults trying to advance their version of Christianity — often decades after the Canonical gospels had been written. There is little reason to believe that they are a more accurate depiction of Jesus’ life or teachings.

But what’s most funny about this alleged conspiracy is what a lousy job it must have done. After all, despite all its best efforts, Mary Magdalene appears in all four gospesl of the New Testament, and in many ways she comes across better than the men. To cite the most obvious example, after the crucifixion, Peter denies Jesus three times and goes into hiding, along with the rest of the apostles.

It is Mary (and one or two other women, depending on which gospel you read) who goes to the tomb and finds it empty. It is Mary to whom one or two angels announce the news of the resurrection. And it is Mary to whom the risen Jesus first appears. And the men don’t believe her when she tells them about it!

Something about those cowering, fearful, faithless men, contrasted with Mary, just makes them look really bad and makes her look really good. I know if I were part of a conspiracy to rewrite history and downgrade the role of Mary Magdalene, I would never have let this episode — in four different versions, no less — make its way into the Bible.

Of course, the filmmakers are hiding behind the shiled of dramatic license, insisting that their movie is only fiction. But if that were true, no one would go see THE DA VINCI CODE. As a murder mystery, it is barely adequate hokum, bogged down by its scholarly pretensions. The only reason the subject matter has caught the imagination of the public is that author Dan Brown has cleverly convinced the public that his novel is based on historical fact. (The very first page begins with the boldfaced word FACT at the top, followed by a few paragraphs that allegedly lay the groundwork for the books historical veracity.)

I know people like conspiracy theories, and the Catholic Church has much to answer for. Even putting aside historical atrocities like the Spanish Inquisition, the Church of today has a lousy record on issues like birth control, abortion, and attitudes toward women and gay people. But that’s no reason to accept Dan Brown’s idiotic theory about goddess-worship as if it were gospel truth.

Copyright 2006 Steve Biodrowski

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About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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