‘Da Vinci Code’ Boy Meets Grail

The controversial new movie “The Da Vinci Code” was released May 19 to the chagrin of the Catholic Church and other religious groups. Art, murder and religion set the scene for a complicated plot filled with surprising twists and secrets bound to keep audiences at the edge of their seats.

The movie, directed by Ron Howard, is based on the book by Dan Brown, which claims that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene, the Holy Grail incarnate, and starts off a bloodline that continues to this day.

The story also makes the claim that over the centuries the Catholic Church has conspired to destroy any evidence that would bring this truth to light.

Dan Brown’s book, based on the controversial non-fiction tome “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, has sold millions of copies and is a New York Times Bestseller.

The main character, Professor Robert Langdon, is portrayed by Tom Hanks, who is famous for roles in films such as “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Castaway,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump” – the latter two for which he won Academy Awards.

Langdon is a symbologist, one who studies symbols and their meanings. When a Louvre curator is found murdered with strange figures thought to contain a secret message drawn on his body, he is brought in to investigate.

Langdon then encounters Sophie Neveu, played by Audrey Tautou, a French actress new to American audiences, but internationally acclaimed for starring role in “Amelie.” Neveu is the dead curator’s grandchild.

As the plot thickens, both Neveu and Langdon wind up as fugitives on the run from the French police and the head investigator, who is acting in conjunction with Opus Dei, a secretive cult within the Catholic Church. The protagonists also discover the involvement of the Priory of Scion, a secret society determined to protect to the death the secrets of the Holy Grail.

In the race to the end of the film, Neveu and Langdon must unravel the clues and find the sarcophagus of Mary Magdalene before the bad guys find it and destroy it, thus keeping humankind forever oblivious of the truth of the Holy Grail.

The story is full of surprises, with friends who turn out to be foes and secret society members emerging from the shadows. Ancient church corridors, cryptic symbols and riddles, and thrilling police chases and close calls add to the film’s riveting enigma. This builds up into an unexpected conclusion to the quest for the Grail.
One of the story’s stronger points is its rich, accurate connection to actual historical events and figures. Throughout the film, events such as the Inquisition and icons like Isaac Newton and Leonardo Da Vinci contribute significantly to an intricately woven plot.

The movie maintains a sinister mood from beginning to end, starting strong with the psychotic albino, played by Paul Bettany, who has also appeared in films such as “Wimbleton” and “Master and Commander: Far Side of the World,” and his portrayal here of a “deeply motivated” religious fanatic is disturbing but darkly enjoyable.

Although definitely not as detailed or exciting as the book, the film stays as true to its literary counterpart as is possible in the 2 ´ hour running time. However, one particular disappointment is the character of Neveu; in the book, she plays a stronger and more valuable role in solving the puzzle, whereas in the movie, she seems to be dependent on Langdon for answers.

The role of the Vatican is also downplayed in the film, and the crimes committed in the quest for the Holy Grail were attributed directly to Opus Dei. The fact that the group was strongly endorsed by the Vatican, as the book reveals, was only implied — an obvious effort to keep from adding insult to the already insulted Catholic church.

Despite criticism from religious groups, the movie is not an outright attack against the teachings of Christianity; it simply presents fictional alternatives to what is presented as absolute truth and recorded history.

Although the film drags in parts, there are good performances all around. Tatou retains her beautiful French accent but is easily understood, and portrays Neveu with a dark, mysterious elegance.
Hank’s long hair gives him the look of a liberal arts professor. There is no “life’s like a box of chocolates” in his portrayal of Langdon; in the film, he is all intellect and severity.

The stellar cast also features Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, and the great French actor Jean Reno.

The film adaptation was written by Akiva Goldsman.

While the movie is rated PG-13, it is not a family friendly film by any means. There are scenes with nudity, violence, disturbing images, and a lot of gunfire.

Remember, this is a work of fiction — unless Jesus did actually marry a reformed prostitute, moved to France and begin a dynasty that persists to this day.