Will you speak falsely for God,
and speak deceitfully for him?
Will you show partiality towards him,
will you plead the case for God?
Ah, you who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Ron Howard’s second film based on a Dan Brown potboiler will certainly hold your attention—and it is far less controversial than The Da Vinci Code, with even the Vatican newspaper declaring that it is “harmless entertainment.” There are just as many factual errors, both in regard to Rome and to history, in this solve-the-puzzle-of-the moment film, as well as other improbable happenings, but Christian viewers can let down their guard a bit and just go along for the ride. But do not expect much from star Tom Hanks, who seems just to be walking through the reading of his lines: I am certain that when a “Life Achievement” ceremony is held for him, this film will not be mentioned—the distance between this summer blockbuster and Philadelphia is almost infinite.
Treated as a sequel to the first film, the plot involves a beloved pope has died, four cardinals who are possibilities for being elected to replace him have been kidnapped, and the Vatican sends for “symbologist” Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) to help figure out what is going on (as if the world-class scholars residing in Rome could not have done so). He is working against an eight hour deadline because the kidnapper has stolen from an international laboratory a canister of anti-matter timed to blow Rome to smithereens by midnight— and, oh yes, each of the kidnapped cardinals will be killed at intervals, with the symbols for earth, air, fire and water branded with a hot iron on their chest. Langdon apparently knows more about the secret society suspected of being behind the plot than the Vatican, when he says, “Oh geez, you guys don’t even read your own history do you? 1668, the church kidnapped four Illuminati scientists and branded each one of them on the chest with the symbol of the cross. To ‘purge’ them of their sins and they executed them, threw their bodies in the street as a warning to others to stop questioning church ruling on scientific matters.
They radicalized them. The Purga created a darker, more violent Illuminati, one bent on… on retribution.” Aiding Langdon is a beautiful scientist from the lab Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer). However, there is no romance to get in the way of the suspenseful thrills and action. Father Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) is the camerlengo, supposedly the official in charge of arrangements for the Conclave, the gathering of cardinals called to elect the new pope. Among the contenders for the throne is Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), but of course, custom forbids him to show any trace of such ambition. The man against whom Langdon often comes up against during the harrowing eight hours is Swiss Guard Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgård).
As usual, the church history and facts (such as about how a Conclave is operated) are bungled, but for most movie goers this will not matter, the suspense and action being engrossing, if not very believable (has there ever been a faster puzzle/riddle solver than Robert Langdon?). Best part for this reviewer are the sets of the film. Not permitted to film inside St. Peter’s or the Sistine Chapel, the filmmakers have created magnificent sets representing these beautiful sites. Howard’s film is far more pleasing to the eye than it isto the mind or soul—though I should add with regard to the latter, that the film is not inimical to the Catholic Church despite its flawed history.
For Reflection Spoilers follow, especially toward the end.
1. The film plays upon the popular assumption about the battle between science and the Roman Catholic Church. For a deeper look at this check out the article on Galileo and the church in the Pittsburgh Catholic. I am grateful to internet friend Tim Killmeyer for providing this.
http://www.pittsburghcatholic.org/newsarticles_more.phtml?id=2486 2. Why do you think that conspiracy theories are so popular, in fiction and in real life? What do they reveal about our acceptance of authorities, either of governmental or church? Do you think that much of this suspicion or lack of trust can be traced back to the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination; the governmental deceptions of the Vietnam era; and even of the way that the Catholic Church has handled its child abuse situation? For information on the secret organization “The Illuminati” , click onto the Wikipedia link: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illuminati)
3. Were you surprised by the revelation of the enemy behind all of the violence? What do you think that the author of Job would have thought of him, given the patriarch’s response to his so-called comforters in chapter 13? What other examples of the misuse of the faith can you think of, both from sad chapters in the history of the Catholic and Protestant churches? How are such defenses of the church based on fear rather than real faith, or at least the faith embodied in Jesus and the prophets?
4. Do you think that either Brown or the filmmakers understand much of Catholic doctrine by the way in which they depicted the end of the villain? Would such a person really end his life himself?
5. What do you think of the parting between Langdon and Cardinal Straus? Although Langdon cannot accept the Cardinal’s interpretation that God used him in the defense of the church, what do you think? How has God often worked in such “mysterious ways, his wonders to perform” ?