Yet, as a thriller the movie moved faster and with more tension than I had expected. People were being bloodied everywhere; cars were screaming madly on narrow streets or on wooded dirt roads, it was hard to tell who various people were; the plot and the madness were so complex that I had a hard time telling who the good guys were (if any); and the splayed, blood-oozing victims were too anonymous to seem like anything but cardboard stuffing. Tom Hanks was woefully miscast, amiable but without much intelligence playing in his eyes even when he was supposed to be being clever–but it did turn out that his sidekick, the pretty French detective, was actually the only living descendant of Jesus Christ, by the “wife” of the Christ, Mary Magdalene.
True, the number of deranged characters for one movie was a bit overabundant, and it did not help that nearly all of them were Catholics of one sort or another–except for the secular hero (Ian McKellen) who was also led away towards the end screaming incoherently.
All this was expected. The one thing that really shocked me was the movie’s underlying intention, stated several times with great clarity: the depth and passion of its anti-Christian, anti-monotheism craziness. To say the movie wishes actually to be the anti-Christ would only sound extravagant; still that is the constant and underlying message. The “heroes” of the film have to save the world from the oppression and injustice brought into it, not only by Christianity, but by all monotheistic religions. Wherever there is monotheism, the secular hero says, there is violence, or oppression, or something like that.
All that matters, Tom Hanks tells the only living descendant of Christ, is what you believe. Not truth, not reality, but whatever you believe. That’s what matters. You make up reality as you go. The professor Hanks plays makes plain that he believes that Jesus is only a man–a man and that’s all. A great moral teacher, perhaps, but only a man.
That, of course, is the one thing that the Jesus himself does not allow us to believe. If Jesus is only a man, he is no great moral teacher. He is on the contrary a fraud, a pretender, a horrible spendthrift with his own life and the lives of his apostles–all twelve of whom met a martyrdom like his, some of them crucified, all of them most brutally killed without the utterance of a single recantation. If He was not the Son of God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he was either a mountebank or a lunatic, and deserves our contempt, not our praise. His every moral teaching would be vitiated by its radical emptiness and fraudulence.
One of the very meanings of being secular today, of course, is to believe that Jesus was exactly all these things–a lunatic or a fraud and, more important than anything else, no more than a man. So The Da Vinci Code will not exactly be stating any new thesis that secular people don’t already accept. What it may succeed in doing, however, is to make dramatically manifest the silliness, madness, and love of illusion in what being secular means, at least to these film makers. It is for this reason, perhaps, that so many secular critics have found this movie repellent. Although it seeks to mock Christians and Jews, it actually makes a purely secular view seem absolutely batty.
In short, there is enough in this film to offend everybody.
Some, of course, may be so crazed themselves that they will truly enjoy the Catholic bashing–all these scheming, hideous, bloodthirsty, maddened cults and their captives, all those mysterious blessings and signs of the cross on the way to murder most vile. Is this what the author and filmmakers actually think moves the more than 1.2 billion Catholics on earth today? Are these artists so blinded by hatred that they cannot see, in the very paintings and glorious churches aspiring toward the sky in whose midst they do their filming, a reaching upwards toward “the Love that moves the Sun and all the stars”?
I think I have never for two-and-a-half hours felt so surrounded by decadence and hostility toward Christ. Yet I must admit that the film was glitzy with the art of the makers of thrillers. One could never be sure when one scene, then another, then another, then another, would be cut short by a murderous lunge, a shot ricocheting around a closed space, a door slamming, a car screeching. From one shock to another, one’s stomach absorbed punch after punch.
Afterwards, I sure felt like a strong double bourbon. And I felt eager to forget as soon as I can the sheer malicious hatred that swirls up from this film.
— Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Novak’s own website is www.michaelnovak.net.