The new film Bloodline from writer, director, and star investigator, Bruce Burgess — whose credits include The Bermuda Triangle Solved — purports to be an investigation of the most outlandish of the many outrageous claims from Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code: that Jesus did not die on the cross, but survived and later lived in France with his wife, Mary Magdalen, and their children. Bloodline is not so much an investigation of this claim, as it is a continuation of the marketing plan for Brown’s book.
Just as the film version of Da Vinci met with mocking laughter from viewers at Cannes, so too Bloodline incites laughter at its crudely contrived methods of building suspense and its preposterously self-serving claims of the discovery of evidence. The filmmakers, who claim to be advancing the cause of reason and evidence against the superstitions of religion, never pause to engage the many detailed criticisms that have been raised, by Amy Welborn among others, of Dan Brown’s revisionist history.
Burgess, whose project began in Paris in 2005, follows a rather laborious path. His investigation is triggered by the dubious interpretation of a scant series of clues and multiple interviews with those supposedly knowledgeable about the evidence for the grand thesis of Jesus and Mary’s life in France. The quest, such as it is, culminates in the French medieval village of Rennes-le-Chateau, where 19th-century priest Berenger Sauniere supposedly uncovered secrets so explosive that the Catholic Church paid him to keep it quiet. (Of course, that story was concocted by publicity-seeking restaurateur Nöel Corbu in the mid-1950s.) The film’s staged investigation of the church in that town leads to a discovery of a secret room, accessible only through a remote camera and containing the mummified remains of a female corpse, and items such as coins, a cup, and a veil.
Almost the entire film consists of a series of unfounded suggestions. The film pathetically attempts to build a sense of the danger in which the investigators find themselves because they are about to reveal a truth that will undermine the entire history of Christianity. But the only evidence of such a threat is the repeated heavy breathing about it by those onscreen. Phones are supposedly being bugged; individuals connected with the notorious Priory of Sion are reportedly turning up dead at an alarming rate and from mysterious causes. In a hilarious series of shots interspersed throughout the film, Burgess himself looks increasingly worried and haggard as the undocumented threats against him mount — giving the film the feel of The Blair Witch Project a la Dan Brown.
People are interviewed using voice distortion techniques. Repeatedly interviewed is the very odd looking Nicolas Haywood, who claims to represent the Priory of Sion and who repeatedly claims, after mentioning the danger and breathing deeply, that there is conclusive evidence as to Jesus and Mary Magdalen’s history in the region. But no investigation into the mummified corpse is forthcoming, so the filmmakers’ wispy theories are left lingering in the air — like a bad smell. They never bother to ask: What sort of conclusive evidence regarding the corpse could prove the thesis about Jesus’s French family? I wonder why not . . .
As if to confirm their location on the lunatic fringe, the filmmakers decide to interview Episcopal Bishop John Spong of New Jersey, who has already publicly repudiated all the central claims of Christianity, in search of an objective assessment of their hypothesis. Spong asserts that, if the alternative story had been known in the past, there would have been no slavery, no anti-Semitism, and no prejudice against left-handed people or gays.
Spong functions here as nothing more than a comic parody of a cult leader desperate to get everyone to drink the Magdalen Cool-Aid. The filmmakers have already had their fill. In their world, anyone who believes the story about Jesus and Magdalen can be trusted, while everyone connected with the evil empire of the Vatican must be doubted. (In an absurdity lost on the filmmakers, they append a final allegation from an anonymous, purportedly Vatican, source claiming that the Priory of Sion is in fact the Vatican.)
The film does not dwell on the fact that the Priory of Sion only became well known in the late 1950s in France when claims about it were made by Pierre Plantard, who had his own self-aggrandizing interests in mind. But why should such questionable intentions trouble these filmmakers?
The suppositions here make little internal sense — but why should logic get in the way of a mediocre documentary? The film indulges in contradictory versions of the alternative history of Jesus and the Magdalen — the only unifying thread among them is that Christ didn’t die on the cross, Mary Magdalen having moved his wounded body to safety.
It is not clear from Bloodline whether the disciples were intentionally duped by Mary and Jesus or whether they constructed the story of the resurrection themselves in an effort to dupe the rest of us. It is also not clear whether Christ died within days of the crucifixion or lived many years — long enough to take a vacation in France with the wife and kids. Having not settled that issue, the claim is still presented that the bloodline of Jesus through Mary Magdalene established the royal line of Merovingian rule (the lineage Plantard was trying to establish for himself).
Now, what kind of sense does any of this make? Borrowing a strategy from C. S. Lewis, we might consider the options here: If the death and resurrection were hoaxes, perpetrated by Jesus and/or Mary, then Jesus is a deceiving prophet. If the death and resurrection were myths taught by the disciples, then Jesus was nothing more than another forgettable prophetic teacher, who abounded in the ancient world. In either case, why would Jesus’s bloodline be significant, let alone royal?
Finally, Spong’s utopian thinking about the Magdalen being a restorative corrective to what ails the Church today is patently self-contradictory. If we wanted an alternative Christian myth to curb prejudice against those of African or Jewish lineage, why would we select one whose entire basis is the protection and adulation of the prerogatives of a royal bloodline? The significance of their own title, Bloodline, seems lost on the filmmakers. The purity of blood as the basis for the alternative myth invites the same sort of racism decried by those who celebrate the alternative myth.
Dan Brown and Bloodline are no competition for the Gospels — they are not even competition for J. K. Rowling. Mudbloods of the world unite against Dan Brown and his racist minions!
– Thomas S. Hibbs is distinguished professor of ethics and culture at Baylor University and author of Arts of Darkness.