Spoiler alert: in order to write anything meaningful about the movie, I need to give away all the plot points. So bypass this post if you haven’t yet read the book or seen the movie, but plan to in the future (although I certainly recommend the book over the movie).
I previously reviewed the book. The book was a mediocre murder mystery/thriller whose primary redeeming quality was its disavowal of the beliefs of Christianity.
As a murder mystery/thriller, the movie is even worse. The characters in the movie are even more cardboard-like than the ones in the book. This is the worst performance I’ve ever seen from Tom Hanks. Audrey Tautou, who plays Sophie Nevue, is even worse. Other reviews have praised Ian McKellen’s performance as Leigh Teabing, and I have to agree. He is the only character in the movie who is fun to watch. The second-most interesting character in the movie is Silas the albino monk, played by Paul Bettany.
The biggest disappointment with the movie is how it handled the most interesting aspect of the book, the historical “facts” woven into the plot about how Jesus is not really divine and the Catholic church is a big fraud. Apparently Akiva Goldsman, the screenplay writer, and Ron Howard, the director, thought that the anti-Catholic and pagan message of the book is too controversial for a Hollywood movie if left at full strength, and therefore they watered it down.
In the book, Robert Langdon and Leigh Teabing agree completely on the historical “facts.” But in the movie, Langdon’s role is to doubt Teabing’s recitation of the history of Catholicism. At Teabing’s estate they get into an argument with Langdon insisting that Teabing’s history is speculation and not proven. Goldsman and Howard want to make it clear to the audience that it’s OK to disagree with Teabing.
Because Teabing turns out to be crazy and the mastermind behind the murders of the leadership of the Priory of Sion, the audience will obviously discount Teabing’s spin on history in favor of Langon who is played by the likeable Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks even recounts a story in which he was trapped in a well as a kid, and he prayed to Jesus, and he thinks that Jesus heard his prayers. There was no such story in the novel. Langdon was clearly not a Christian in the novel, but in the movie he is recast as a believer in Christianity.
There is only one time in the novel where Langdon comes close to sympathizing with Christianity. He says in the novel:
The Bible represents a fundamental guidepost for millions of people on the planet, in much the same way the Koran, Torah, and Pali Canon offer guidance to people of other religions. If you and I could dig up documentation that contradicted the holy stories of Islamic belief, Judaic belief, Buddhist belief, pagan belief, should we do that? Should we wave a flag and tell the Buddhists that the Buddha did not come from a lotus blossom? Or that Jesus was not born of a literal virgin birth? Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical.
At best, Robert Langdon in the novel is only expressing doubt that it’s a good idea to shove the falsity of their religion into the faces of Christians. He’s certainly not expressing personal belief in Jesus. And even this quote always seemed out of place to me, as if Dan Brown stuck it in there for the same reason that Howard and Goldsman stuck in Langdon’s well story; to avoid offending Christians.
Personally I don’t buy the idea that “those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical.” It’s called “faith” because they do believe that the stories are true even though there’s no evidence for it. The people who go to church regularly surely do believe that the stories are true, most especially the story of Jesus’ divinity. Unless they only go to church because not going makes them feel guilty.
An additional philosophical message, endorsed by Langdon in the novel, is that sex is not only good and natural, but also a pathway to God. This was understood by everyone until the Catholic Church came onto the scene. For reasons I have a hard time following, it was necessary for the Church to condemn sex in order to consolidate its power. To the extent that Langdon seems religious, his religion is not Christianity but rather the worship of “the sacred feminine.” Yes, Langdon of the book seems torn between being an atheist and a pagan. Langdon of the movie is Catholic.
Howard and Goldsman have removed most of the “sacred feminine” stuff from the movie along with Langdon’s assertion that sex is good. If any flashback scene deserved to be in the movie, it would be when Langdon told his students at Harvard, “The next time you find yourself with a woman, look in your heart and see if you cannot approach sex as a mystical, spiritual act. Challenge yourself to find that spark of divinity that man can only achieve through union with the sacred feminine.” This is obviously not deemed an appropriate topic for a summer movie with a “PG-13” rating.
There is one change to the story that completely baffles me. In the movie, Sophie learns that Jacque Sauniere is not really her grandfather. This revelation never happened in the book. I have to ask why was this changed? Maybe one of my readers can figure it out. I would understand the change if it somehow made the movie shorter, because it’s necessary to cut things out to keep the movie less than two and a half hours, but if anything this change seems to make the movie longer because it adds an extra twist that has to be explained. Is this supposed to water down the anti-Catholic and pagan message? How? Or is Goldsman the screenplay writer so egotistical that he thinks he can “improve” on a book that sold 60 million copies by changing the ending?
Although the movie fails as a murder mystery/thriller, it might have still succeeded as a good movie if it had remained true to the book’s anti-Catholic and pagan message, but instead Howard and Goldsman wussed out and gave us watered down crap.