Chill out, it’s an unholy mess

A member of Opus Dei passes judgement on The Da Vinci Code.

Michael Cook

Topics Culture

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[While we suspect The Da Vinci Code is a bad film, the views expressed here are not endorsed by spiked – even if they are endorsed by God.]

As a cradle Catholic and a member of Opus Dei for 30-odd years, I was not disposed to like The Da Vinci Code. But after its opening weekend I can say, ‘Relax, chill out. Stow the rotten tomatoes and just give it a big raspberry’. Director Ron Howard’s version of the novel is a tepid succession of mini-PowerPoint presentations punctuated by narrow escapes. It’s no blockbuster.

The aim of the film is to unveil ‘the greatest lie ever told’, to show that Jesus Christ is not God and that the Catholic Church has brutally suppressed this subversive truth. It is ‘a secret so powerful that if revealed it would devastate the very foundations of mankind’. All is revealed in a church basement. Does the earth quake? Does lightning strike? No – the guardians of this apocalyptic secret mill about sipping cups of Earl Grey with the last lineal descendant of Jesus Christ. How typically British, what? How anti-climactic.

Without a doubt, for believing Christians, The Da Vinci Code is explicitly blasphemous. We’re not just talking about dethroning Jesus Christ as the Son of God, either. At the root of this cultural cancer is all monotheism: ‘As long as there has been one true God’, says the crazed Holy Grail expert Sir Leigh Teabing, played with gusto by Sir Ian McKellen, ‘there has been murder in his name’. Muslims and Jews, take note.

The film’s theology is a tad murky, but it seems to be promoting worship of the sacred feminine, whatever that is. In the absurd closing scene, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks, kneels reverently above La Pyramide Inversée at the Louvre and worships the spirit of Mary Magdalen, who is buried deep below in a hidden sarcophagus. Even Hanks looks embarrassed. And so he should. The last time the Western world experimented with worship of fertility goddesses, it ended up with sacred prostitution, ritual orgies and infant sacrifice. So I’m not sure whether women will gain a lot by knocking down clothes lines and erecting shrines to Astarte, Aphrodite and Ishtar.

Sophie Neveu, played by Audrey Tautou, doesn’t behave like an avatar of feminist spirituality, either. She’s a modest, docile lass goggling admiringly at Hanks as he gives her PowerPoint presentations. Would a real Earth Mother goddess descended from Mary Magdalen spend time massaging poor Robert’s temples to take away that nasty little headache? I think not.

So while Ron Howard and Dan Brown have tried hard to be blasphemous, it’s not full-blooded and visceral. Only a god-bothered former believer is capable of authentic blasphemy. I found the film deeply offensive and painful, but rather like a cranky four-year-old stamping his foot and shrieking ‘fuck off!’. At Cannes, the reviewers giggled. So did I.

Naturally, I was curious to see how Howard would deal with Opus Dei, which had complained politely of being defamed in the book. He responded, all right – by turbo-charging the defamation. Not only is the masochistic Silas the Mad Monk Assassin a member of Opus Dei, but Howard made the sadistic cop, Bezu Fache, one as well. Apparently we’ve a complete range of S&M in our outfit.

I felt like raising my hand to explain that Opus Dei is normal men and women, mostly married, just trying to do everyday things for the love of God. Unhappily Ron Howard beat me to it: he created a scene in which an Opus Dei bishop (also mealy-mouthed, two-faced and vicious) says precisely that in an interview with a journalist. Any similarity to real persons or institutions is unintentional, say the credits at the end. Well, that gets my vote for the greatest lie ever told.

And the most cowardly, too. You might remember last year’s film The Constant Gardener. An evil drug company sends out assassins to knock off whistleblowers. Which drug company? Pfizer? GlaxoSmithKline? AstraZeneca? None of them. The producer would have been taken to the cleaners. But Ron Howard and Sony Pictures knew that the Catholic Church can’t fight back effectively and that he could tip garbage all over Opus Dei without losing a cent.

Opus Dei’s press office (1) has suggested that what really needs decoding is Sony’s ‘code of conduct’. ‘No personnel may make racial or religious slurs, jokes or any other comments or conduct in the workplace, that create a hostile work environment’, it states (2). And Nicole Seligman, Sony’s executive vice president and general counsel, says on the company website that ‘a commitment to openness, ethics and integrity…has to be in the company’s DNA’ (3). Is this another of Dan Brown’s anagrams or riddles? What do ethics and integrity mean if they don’t cover deliberate distortion and misrepresentation?

There are countless historical errors in The Da Vinci Code. They offer a great opportunity for Christians to explain what they believe. The story of Christianity is based four-square on demonstrable facts, not – like Dan Brown’s – on 1066 and All That and Wikipedia. In particular, I’m going to be highlighting a core theme in Opus Dei, that love of God is a 24/7 affair which should fill your whole life, not just church on Sundays. In other words, you should bring your faith to work with you.

Dan Brown and Ron Howard & Co must be nice enough guys in real life. But if so, there’s a chasm between their personal values and their work values. In the publicity lead-up to the film’s launch, Paul Bettany, who plays Silas, told the London Telegraph: ‘There’s something nice about being able to leave your sense of morality at the door when you come to work in the morning and just be cruel to people all day.’ (4) If you want to know what Opus Dei is all about, it’s the precise opposite of that telling comment.

Michael Cook writes from Melbourne, Australia. He is editor of the bioethics newsletter BioEdge. Email him at

(1) Sony’s Other Code, Opus Dei Press Office, 17 May 2006

(2) Sony Group Code of Conduct

(3) Nicole Seligman, Sony’s Commitment to a Culture of Openness, Ethics and Integrity

(4) The code that’s set to break records, Daily Telegraph April 21, 2006

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Topics Culture


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