For those, like myself, who somehow managed to make dinner party conversation over the past year without reading Dan Brown’s pulpy novel, The Da Vinci Code, following the film’s marketing edict to "seek the truth" proves a pretty laborious business. Forget something as thorny as truth, I’d have been happy just nailing down a clear plot line.
It begins well enough with the murder of an elderly museum curator by a hooded albino monk (hard to get a more cracking start than one that includes a hooded albino monk). With his dying breath the old man manages to strip naked, arrange his body and blood in the likeness of Da Vinci’s "Vitruvian Man," and use his leftover corpuscles to scrawl a message on the marble floor for his friend, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks). Unfortunately, the carefully-anagrammed clue has the secondary result of implicating Langdon in the crime.
On the run from inept French police (could French police ever be anything other than inept?) Langdon finds help from the murdered man’s granddaughter, Sophie (Audrey Tautou) and a crippled English colleague, Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellan). As the trio compare notes, they discover that they’ve become involved in a cover up that began far before the offing of the aging pagan—it began with the mythical Knights Templar who once upon a time blackmailed the Catholic church to suppress the true role of Mary Magdalene in biblical history.
The Knights then became the Priory of Scion, a secret society that boasts such esteemed past membership as Leonardo Da Vinci, Alexander Pope, and Sir Isaac Newton. Catholic officials in-the-know also formed an underground action committee that became (and this point is repeatedly belabored) the conservative para-church organization, Opus Dei. Opus Dei tries to murder all Magdalene descendents while the Priory of Scion endeavors to protect them.
For some reason, despite the fact that they’ve had hundreds of years to make a bold move, it never occurs to either side to either go public or destroy the evidence. Oh, and for some reason the Roman Emperor Constantine had a hand in launching the whole thing.
If all this seems a bit confusing, its certainly not for lack of explanation.
Director Ron Howard is nothing if not devoted to strict adherence to the novel’s intricacies, and he expends considerable time, with Landgon as his mouthpiece, bringing the audience up to speed. But despite the fact that Howard pulls every visual trick in the book to make his history lessons engaging, Hanks’ summarical monologues are so pedantic, he might as well be drawing timelines on a chalkboard.
Megan Basham is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide To Having It All
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