How long, you people, shall my honour suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
Matt Lauer: How much of this is based on reality in terms of things that actually occurred? I know you did a lot of research for the book.
Brown: Absolutely all of it…. Robert Langdon is fictional, but all of the art, architecture, secret rituals, secret societies, all of that is historical fact.
TODAY SHOW Interview
Well, the film that many have awaited so long is here at last, and the church is still unshaken. Just upset, maybe. As well as it might be, with even more people seeing the film during the next few weeks than ever will read the book (although the novel has sold millions of copies). Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman have toned down considerably some of the novel’s anti-Christian attacks, though only those who have read the book will be aware of this. For example, when Langdon’s friend Leigh Teabing, is expounding on his Holy Grail theories, Robert raises questions of doubt, and later, when Teabing mentions the Medieval handbook The Witches Hammer, written to aid church leaders in ferreting out witches, he accurately declares that 50,000 women were victimized by the church, not claiming that five million were killed, as in the novel. Instead, Langdon adds, “Some say millions.” Still, there are plenty of inaccuracies to mislead the ignorant, such as the clever interpretation by Teabing of Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” the supposed expert claiming that the beardless disciple leaning away from Jesus’ right hand is not John the Disciple, but Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus later married and sired a daughter, and so on, and on.
Like the book, the film is enjoyable as a thriller, but its two main characters seem flat, devoid of energy or spirit. The fault lies partly with Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou’s lackluster portrayal of Harvard “Symbologist” Robert Langdon and Paris Police cryptologist Sophie Neveu. Even greater, however, the problem is with the source material: Dan Brown used his characters like they were game board pieces, the game being Let’s Smear the Catholic Church. Finally, however, the film switches to Sophie’s coming to an awareness of her family history, and Robert Langdon seems to enter prayer mode beside I.M. Pei’s Pyramidal entrance to the Louvre, and then they seem like warm human beings with feelings, and not just cool puzzle solvers.
Mr. Howard opens the film in an exciting cinematic way, Robert Langdon delivering an illustrated lecture on symbols in a Paris lecture hall, the camera switching back and forth from the Louvre Museum, where the albino monk Silas (Paul Bettany) is murdering Jacques Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle). As Langdon is signing copies of his book, Captain Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) comes up to him with a disturbing order. Langdon is to go with him to the murder scene in the Grand Hall of the Louvre. Sophie Neveu shows up there, telling Langdon that he has an important phone call at the U.S. Embassy. Langdon dials the number on the cell phone that she hands him, and is puzzled to hear her voice. She tells Langdon to dial a three-digit code, and he listens to the message informing him that the Captain is convinced that he is guilty of the murder. Soon the two manage to trick Capt. Fache, and the chase begins, one that will last over a day and lead to a villa in the French countryside, then to London and Westminster Abbey, to an old round church in Scotland, and finally back to Paris.
Despite what more sophisticated critics say, I found the film to be entertaining, with enough riddles and codes (though some in the book had to be left out) to satisfy most puzzle and mystery lovers. Conspiracy theory addicts will revel in the claims about a Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar that guarded the secret of the Grail. Howard includes a number of historical flashbacks, the most effective being that of the Westminster Abbey funeral of Sir Isaac Newton, blended with the present scene of Langdon and Sophie walking down the long aisle of the nave. The actor who steals the show at times is Ian McKellen, who obviously enjoyed playing the semi-invalid Grail fanatic Sir Leigh Teabing. It must have been far more fun playing an eccentric Englishman than the colorless hero and heroine. He lends such authority to the scholarly Teabing that I almost believed his preposterous lies about the history of the gospels and the church—which is all the more reason church leaders should see the film and bone up on authentic history.
There are also some funny lines, such as when, near the end of the film, Sophie sticks her toe in the water, saying to Langdon, “No. Maybe I’d do better with the wine.” You will have to see the film to discover why this is so funny. But never forget that the premise of the book and film is based on falsehood, not truth. One preposterous claim, backed up by a historical flashback, is when Teabing tells Sophie that before Constantine the church had been waging a war against pagans, attacking their shrines. As he speaks we see an armed mob, predating the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue by almost 2000 years, using ropes to pull down a large statue. This ignores the historical record that the church itself, until Constantine’s Edict of Toleration, was the target of attacks, that no where in the Roman Empire was it powerful enough to a destroy pagan shrine. How many people will realize that Dan Brown reversed church history? Yes, unfortunately, the church did persecute the pagans when it was designated the official state religion, but this two generations after Constantine!
I suspect that Ron Howard realizes deep down how fictional Brown’s book is, and when he eventually receives one of those Life Achievement awards, not much will be said about this film. Nor will Tom Hanks find his role as the “symbologist” ranked up there with those in Philadelphia or Apollo 13. It does afford Christians an opportunity to talk with non-members about the real Jesus and the history of the church, with the necessity of owning up to some of the tragic events in which the church became persecutor. Also, the place of Mary Magdalene and women in general in the church always needs study and discussion. Thus sitting through almost two and a half hours of falsehoods will earn believers the right to enter into the fray.
1) What do we learn about Robert Langdon from the opening sequence of his lecture? What is a “symbologist”?
2 Were you surprised that it is a monk who kills museum curator Jacques Sauniere? What do you think of Silas’ (and his mentor Bishop Aringarosa’s) justification for his killing? What did you think or feel when Silas prayed for the repose of the soul of the nun whom he had just murdered? Does this sound familiar? How have church leaders done similar acts in the past and justified them? Silas also prays for forgiveness: do you think he receives it? Why or why not?
3) The phrase “The dark con of man” leads to Leonardo’s painting “The Madonna of the Rocks,” but what does this also reveal about author Dan Brown’s view of Christianity?
4) What does Leigh mean by “The Holy Grail is the source of the church’s power on earth, not God’s”? What does the Catholic Church teach about its source of authority? (See Matt. 16:16-19) How have Protestants countered this claim by emphasizing the Bible?
5) What do you think of Leigh’s claim that the Christians (before Constantine) started a war against the pagans, his words bolstered by the flashback showing a mob pulling down a large statue of a god/goddess? What was the actual status of the church before Constantine? Was it being persecuted, or doing the persecution? (Remember the phrase, “The blood of the martyrs is the…? You finish it.)
6) Leigh claims that until Constantine Christians regarded Jesus as merely a man, a great prophet: what do the earliest Christian texts say about this? (See Matt. 1:23; Mark 2:7; John 1:1; 8:58; Romans 5:1-8; Phil. 2:5-6; Col. 1:15-19; Titus 2:11-14; Rev. 1:8.)
7) In the film’s interpretation of Leonardo’s “The Last Supper,” what moment in the story of Jesus does Leigh and Robert assume the painting is based on? This is why they make the point that the chalice is missing from the painting. But, instead of the institution of the sacrament of Communion, what did Leonardo actually base his painting on? Note how the artist has grouped the disciples in triads reacting to Jesus’ announcement that one of them will betray him: yes, the painting is based on John 13:21-24, not the Synoptic Gospels account of the Last Supper. Does John include any mention of the Sacrament of Communion? Would not this better explain the absence of the Cup? Look closely at the painting, and what do you find placed in front of each disciple? Not one, but many small cups.
8) Leigh makes much of the beardless disciple to the right of Jesus, claiming that this is a woman, not a man. What was the tradition about John, and how did Renaissance artists depict young men? Check this out with other depictions of the Last Supper? Even as late as the 18th century, look at William Blake’s “Last Supper,” and how does John appear?
9) What are the arguments for and against Jesus’ being married? Why does Leigh depend so much on the Gnostic writings and ignores the canonical writings? What is the basic Gnostic view of Jesus, of matter and spirit, that he ignores?
10) The Gospel of Philip does remind us that Mary Magdalene’s role in the early church might have been greater than we realize, yet how do the gospels show that she was important?
11) What do you make of Robert’s story of his being trapped in a well? What do you think of his question, “Why couldn’t Jesus be human and still capable of those miracles?” How is this similar to what the church teaches? What do you make of his statement, “What matters is what you believe”? At what do you think Robert has arrived at when he discovers the true resting place of Mary Magdalene? Might Jesus say to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of god”?
For books and DVDs that expose the fraudulent claims of Dan Brown see my article in the last issue of VP, “Mary Magdalene in Film,” Also check the excellent website that serves as gateway to a vast library of Gnostic texts and articles about Gnosticism: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/gnostics.html