The movie was worse than the book -and I have an amazing (and possibly appalling) tolerance for bad movies. Are there really people who think this thing is true? But as my mind started to wander (about 4 minutes into the movie), I realized that I had both a grave fear and a vague hope -either of which might give the book too much power to shape people's thinking about the church. But here they are, as idle ruminations for a Saturday morning.
First, the bad news. The writing in the book is so over-wrought that it was funny -and this from the Queen of Adjective Overuse. There was the annoying and manipulative technique of ending each chapter with a cliff-hanger so that you couldn't not go on. There were so many factual errors scattered throughout the book that it became a past-time to find them and mark them down. When church councils were, what they decided, where historical traditions in the church started... that kind of thing. It's like when someone sets a novel in your home town and then gets the streets wrong. It doesn't annoy most people, because they don't know, but it takes you completely out of the story for a second. I don't know much about church history compared to even an undergraduate in the field, probably. But arguably, I know more than your average Joe on the street. And clearly, I know more than Dan Brown. For heaven's sake, pick up an encyclopedia. They do still make them, you know.
And the movie can't even do justice to the book. So much of the book takes place in thought and research. How do you convey that in a movie? And the albino isn't albino in the movie. Very annoying. And then there's the issue of Tom Hanks's hair. Egad, that was a mistake. Actually Tom Hanks was a mistake here. I finally settled on Bruce Dern as a better choice. And I thought I could watch Paul Bettany do anything. Apparently not. So we ended up with a dry, ugly mess.
But let's move on to the vague hope. The book and movie make the slightly loopy claim that Mary Magdalene was actually the Holy Grail. She is the unsung heroine of Christianity. Knights searching for the holy grail were using code when they referred to Christ's chalice. The symbolism is, well, obvious. They were looking for a different sort of chalice, as it were -the lost feminine iconography in the church and in spirituality.
It's heavy-handed and goofy, I grant you. But the college-aged person in the seat next to me asked his friend, "Do you think the church really subjugates women?". YA THINK???? My friend and I just stared at each other and tried to restrain our laughter. But how would a non-Catholic know that? How would a very young, obedient-but-not-reflective Catholic know that? Oh heck, I don't think my mother knows that. Exposing some of that injustice to the light of day wouldn't be a bad thing. Exposing it through a work of fiction can't be the only way we do that -and of course it's not. Yet using art to expose injustice is legitimate and potentially useful.
I SAID it was a long shot! And so is my fear, I hope. The other piece of this story is that the crusade to reveal the secret the church has been harboring for millennia is led by an Opus Dei bishop and an albino monk. Because Opus Dei is SO likely to lead any campaign that would hurt the institutional church and further truth. Tell me another one. My fear is that the movie and book are unintentionally recruiting materials for Opus Dei. Scary thought, that.
So, in the end, I agree with both The New York Times, which argued that any movie about the holy grail should be done by Monty Python, and Maurice Reidy from America magazine who referred to Dan Brown as "Elaine Pagels for the Robert Ludlum set". Stay home. You'll be happier.