Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Da Vinci Code: A Pagan date movie

M. and I are not what you would call "early adopters," other than perhaps when we bought a Jeep TJ right after they were introduced in 1997. (We still have it.) So this is not exactly a cutting-edge review of The Da Vinci Code.

It is rated PG, which could just as well stand for "Partially or Predominately or Pretty Gnostic." Given that two newer films, The Devil Wears Prada and A Prairie Home Companion had opened in Colorado Springs, site of our delayed anniversary Day in the City, I was surprised that M. voted for Da Vinci. But she argued that it would be the best to see on the big screen (the "Euro porn" factor—old buildings, cityscapes, conspiracies) and, of course, we would be voting with our ticket dollars against those who called for a boycott.

Afterwards, eating at Shuga's on South Cascade Avenue, we decided that this was one case where the movie was better than the book. For me, the book just went “in one eye and out the other.” Having read Holy Blood, Holy Grail back when it was published, I knew the whole Priory of Sion story, and not much about Dan Brown’s novel, other than perhaps the initial murder of the curator in the Louvre, stayed with me.

As to the story's cinematic incarnation, Tom Hanks has evolved into the thinking man’s action hero, Audrey Tautou’s wide-eyed “Who? Me?” expression is bearable, and, most of all, Ian McKellen as the duplicitous Grail expert seems to have such a twinkle in his eye, as though he is saying, “Look at me! An old man, yet I have this juicy part. And I don’t have to endure a long fake beard as I did for Gandalf.”)

He is such a pleasure to watch. I was late in discovering him as an actor—I did not realize how good he was until the “English fascist” Richard III of 1995. At that movie's opening scene, when the glass-domed ticker-tape machine chatters out “Richard . . . Gloucester . . . is . . . at . . . Shrewsbury”—or however it went—my jaw dropped, and I said, “This is going to be wonderful.” And it was. (Perhaps it’s time to rent it again.)

Alfred Molina turns in a competent performance as the scheming Opus Dei bishop.

The story of Sophie (Audrey Tautou) fits the archetype of the Lost Princess—one archetype that Jung never mentioned. Back when I was researching Gleb Botkin and the Church of Aphrodite for Her Hidden Children, I read an article discussing the Anastasia claimant, the woman who was known here as “Anna Anderson.”

Botkin, who had known the real Anastasia, the daughter of the last Russian czar, had supported the claimant when she surfaced in Berlin in the 1920s. He was living in New York City at the time, and a newspaper paid his way to Berlin. Later, around 1968, he officiated at her wedding to one of her American supporters, in his capacity as hierarch of the Church of Aphrodite—that was just months before he died.

At any rate, the article said that the Anastasia story captured so many people’s imaginations because of the “lost princess” theme. And if you equate “princess” with “psyche,” you could put a psychologically Gnostic twist on it. Or “princess” with Sophia, of course.

All the mainstream Catholic denouncers of the movie, however, cannot confront one thing. They can go on and on about how the Church canonized Mary Magdalene and does not really oppress women (don't get my ex-Catholic wife started on that), but they refuse to confront how the book and movie speak to a need for the Divine Feminine. They just can't. It's not in their playbook.

I am not equating Paganism with Gnosticism. Briefly, I consider the key difference to be that most Gnosticism considers this world to be a trap, a tomb, a mistake—pick your metaphor. Michael York discusses the difference at length in his book Pagan Theology. It's a short, pithy book, and you should buy it.

But I do think that Pagans, like Gnostics, can stand outside the current religious mainstream and see what is missing.

But be careful with Dan Brown: he does make up some stuff wholesale. Alexander Pope did not give the eulogy at Isaac Newton's funeral.

You want a conspiracy theory? Maybe movies like this are the result of a plot by European ministries of tourism, who know that some viewers will want to see all the locations.

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Anonymous tarma said...

i thought tom hanks was miscast. he was too humble for an academic with the kind of fame robert langdon is supposed to have...

6:38 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

Too humble? I don't know what your experience with famous scholars has been--and no scholar is all that high on the celebrity scale--but they are not all full of themselves. (I can, however, name some who are.)

One friend of mine has written several well-received on books and even appeared on television as "the expert," but while he has a lot of pride in his work, he remains a generous person. And I think that he is typical, really.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am fascinated with Mystery Religion, but for some reason could not get rid of my Christian Path. I found peace with both by adhering to Gnostic Principles (primarily Valentinus, the most moderate of the leaders). It wasn't until reading Sponge that I was able to stop lying to myself and realize that Jesus is, indeed, a Jewish messanger (no matter how Greek Paul or other's made him).

But while attempting to study Valentinus and other Mystery Cults, and experiencing my own 'gnosis,' if you will permit me to say so, I understand the fault of other groups, much earlier (Sethians) or later (Cathars). At least with Valentinus, the world isn't a tomb, per se. It just becomes irrelevant once you have connected to the greatest divine. The Demiurge isn't evil - he enacts justice. He just doesn't have the compassity of mercy and love that Jesus had.

The problem with making a blanket statement with Gnoticism is that there are so many schools that no blanket statement could cover them all. It would be the same with Hinduism. While most Hindus adhere to the Vedas, for example, there are many schools of thought that dont.

11:14 AM  

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