Angeline Tay asked for my thoughts on "The Da Vinci Code," Dan Brown‘s bestselling novel and box office smash. I have to admit that I spent some time tonight trying to come up with a clever headline for tonight’s blog entry. "The Da Vinci Code" is a title begging for a cliche or a witty pun. How about "Decoding The Da Vinci Code"? Or "Reading Between the Lines of the Da Vinci Code"? Or "The Da Vinci Code is a Masterpiece"? Or "The Da Vinci Code is a Master Piece of Work?" Or "What Would Jesus Do about the Da Vinci Code"? Or "Why does Hollywood Always Cast Ian McKellen as the Sage in Blockbusters"? Nah, writing a snazzy, eye-catching blog title to describe this work isn’t worth the effort. So as not to heap any more hype on this overblown work, I prefer an understated title like "’The Da Vinci Code’ Review." Short, simple, to the point. Over 28 books have been published so far in order to debunk the philosophical premise of "The Da Vinci Code," and all of them use some pithy twist on Dan Brown’s book in their own book titles. Talk about free publicity for Dan Brown! Christian churches worldwide have condemned the book and movie and called for boycotts. Government film censors around the world have weighed on "The Da Vinci Code," even threatening to ban it. Reaction to the book and movie worldwide have merely led to even more publicity and more ticket sales.
All the brouhaha over this work tells me that Dan Brown is becoming one very wealthy man. He is the primary beneficiary of all the hype and controversy surrounding "The Da Vinci Code," much like "The Blair Witch Project" became a $100 million box office hit because some moviegoers actually bought into the myth that it was real film footage from an actual event. The hype around this work is far more intriguing to me than the storyline itself. Those who criticize "The Da Vinci Code" actually perpetuate its popularity by generating continued interest from those who wonder what the hype is all about. If Dan Brown avoids making the same mistake John Lennon did when he infamously claimed that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, and he avoids making some dubious claim that "The Da Vinci Code" has sold more copies than the Bible, I think that the hype will continue. Brown is close to overstepping his bounds, though. His web site proclaims, "His acclaimed novel—The Da Vinci Code—has become one of the most widely read books of all time." True perhaps, but consider this–World Adventurers is one of the most widely read Korea-focused blogs of all time.
I read the book, and tonight I went to see the movie. I thought the movie was fine; better than expected after critics from Cannes to California had panned the movie for being too "serious," "slow," "foreboding," and "introverted." I thought the movie stayed close to the book. Some of the actors’ performances were stilted and underwhelming, most notably Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Robert Langdon. Hanks’ performance was not what I would I have expected from an Oscar-winning actor. Tom Hanks is still one of my favorite actors, although I think Kevin Spacey would have been a much better Robert Langdon.
One theme in "The Da Vinci Code" dominates all others; that is, a conspiracy and cover up have suppressed the greatest story never told. The work claims that Jesus married one of His followers, Mary Magdalene, and that they gave birth to a daughter. It postulates that Mary and her daughter fled to France and that the secretive Priory of Sion and their protectors, the Knights Templar, hid Jesus’ child and the body of Mary from the Catholic Church. It goes on to claim that Church leaders, fearful that the Church would collapse and/or experience a crisis of faith if the truth about Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s relationship became known, spilled innocent blood for two millennia in an attempt to destroy all traces of the body of Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ descents. Brown sets the tone of his book from the very first word written, "FACT" leaving readers the impression that the story is in fact true.
Invoking conspiracy and hiding behind a cover up allow Brown to create a fantastic story that: 1) Cannot be truly proven or disproven; and 2) Allow him to interpret actual events in such a way as to weave a believable narrative that can be neither proven nor disproven. For example, consider the Priory of Sion. Conventional wisdom argues that the Priory was founded in 1956, about 1,900 years after Mary Magdalene’s death. However, Brown cleverly argues that the Priory actually existed long before and that the Priory’s founding in 1956 is a myth put forth by the Church. By sowing seeds of doubt about anything considered true by conventional wisdom, Brown can build a believable story and cater to those who believe what they want to believe despite any empirical evidence to the contrary. He explains on his web site:
Since the beginning of recorded time, history has been written by the "winners" (those societies and belief systems that conquered and survived). Despite an obvious bias in this accounting method, we still measure the "historical accuracy" of a given concept by examining how well it concurs with our existing historical record. Many historians now believe (as do I) that in gauging the historical accuracy of a given concept, we should first ask ourselves a far deeper question: How historically accurate is history itself?
Brown can always argue that what is actually true is often obscured by culture, tradition, propaganda, and political or religious suppression. For example, to some a Christmas tree is a symbol of Christmas, while to others is it pagan symbol of fertility. When reversed, a Buddhist religious symbol becomes a Nazi swastika. The Canon gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John depict Jesus as God, while other early (Gnostic) writings such as the Gospel of Phillip and Gospel of Mary Magdalene paint an image of Christ as a man who is an intimate companion of Mary Magdalene. "The Da Vinci Code" draws from widely-accepted facts, historical events, tradition, myth, and legend, dispensing them into a believable story that cannot be proven or disproven when examined from a relativist perspective. Relatively speaking, I prefer to think of "The Da Vinci Code" as an entertaining story with one undisputable fact–it is making Dan Brown a very, very rich man.