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BEYOND THE DA VINCI CODE

Review by Mark Wiechman

Director:  Will Ebrecht
Video:  TV Full Screen
Audio:  Dolby 2.0
Features:  None
Length:  100 Minutes
Release Date:  June 28, 2005

“What is history, but a fable agreed upon” - Napoleon Bonaparte

“By its very nature, history is always a one-sided account.” The Da Vinci Code

“We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father.  God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. Begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.”  The Nicene Creed, spoken in every Roman Catholic and Orthodox Mass.

“We also want to point out that The Da Vinci Code’s depiction of Opus Dei is inaccurate, both in the overall impression and in many details, and it would be irresponsible to form any opinion of Opus Dei based on reading The Da Vinci Code.”—From the Official Web Page of Opus Dei, “Work of God”

Film ****

In an age of life-like special effects movie blockbusters, instantly downloadable music, and the ability to put entire encyclopedias on a small disc, it is surprising to see a good ol’ fashioned novel turn the world upside down.  The Da Vinci Code has spawned a whole cottage industry of DVDs and books discussing it.  This new release from A&E Television is a tour de force which briskly moves between interviews with historians presenting various theories and points of view and good narration which reminds us which parts are accepted historical facts and which are from the novel itself.  Excellent dramatic re-enactments are combined with CGI such as the face and body of Mary Magdalene looking out from the Last Supper in the place history tells us is St. John the Evangelist.  

Before I go any further, some disclosure:  I am a lifelong Roman Catholic and actually enjoy non-fiction better than fiction.  I liked this book a great deal but I can tell that many of the allegations made by characters in the story are only myths and legend.  The Catholic Church recently recommended that the faithful not read the book since it may shake their faith, and that is understandable.   One of the more interesting ideas that the novel brings up is that if Christ was in fact married, and “the eternal feminine” is an idea dating back to his time, then the church’s attitude that virginity and celibacy are so noble would be debunked once and for all.  While I don’t buy the idea that Christ was ever married, the “eternal feminine” idea and the contention that women are not fully appreciated by the Church resonate with me very strongly. 

The Da Vinci Code is popular largely because it is so unsettling. It captures the imagination of anyone who longs for a more palpable Christianity more closely linked with the ancient world.  It takes some facts and legends and then colors them in so convincingly as to make the reader think every word is historical fact.  I spent several weeks wondering about some of these ideas since they do in some ways undercut Christian faith itself.  Some historians think Jesus may have had actual “brothers and sisters” in the modern, literal meaning.  Some think his mother Mary was not ever-virgin as the Catholic Church teaches.  But these suggestions are, to me, just speculation and do not undercut the faith.  But Brown’s characters suggest much more:  What if Jesus did in fact marry and have children of his own?  What if he did not ascend into heaven after his death, but in fact lived out a normal life?  What if Jesus was not, in fact, divine?  And though the Church denies all of this, wouldn’t it be just like the Catholic Church to do that?

Now, let’s stop for a second.  The novel never claims these to be actual truths, the characters in the book offer it as possible truth.  Also, while I don’t want to give away the ending of the novel, let’s just say that the way it ends knocks the reader out of the fantasy world because it would be the most earth-shaking discovery of modern times if it actually happened.  But it did not, so it’s only a story…This is consistent with Brown’s other books such as Deception Point which involves the discovery of irrefutable evidence of life on other planets interwoven with presidential politics.  I won’t give away the ending of that one either, but again, if the incredibly convincing story were true, our vision of the universe would change forever. 

The Da Vinci Code opens with a brief list of “facts” such as the actual existence of groups called Opus Dei and the Priory of Scion.  That means that anything else stated in the book could be merely fiction.  The introduction tells very little of what these groups do, and Brown takes advantage of our ignorance to launch his tale.  Brown does not ever claim anything else in the book is factual, so I don’t know why it has convinced so many readers that the book is anything more than fiction.  But then we are gullible.  For instance, the Gospels never state that Mary Magadlene was a prostitute, but the Church taught in olden days that she was.  Another example of myth being confused with fact is L. Ron Hubbard’s public admission that Dianetics is not a real religion and that he made it all up.  Yet so many believers don’t listen to him, proving that we humans are all too easily duped and we merely believe what we choose to.

This excellent History Channel special goes into great detail in explaining than many of not all of the theories and myths in the book are not new but have been around for centuries.  Some of the historians interviewed here take the idea of Mr. and Mrs. Jesus of Nazareth very seriously, but others do not, so a mix of opinions is offered.  Also, it points out how the history of the church includes the canonization of Mary Magdalene, which is hardly consistent with the novel’s theory that the church suppressed her importance.  Richard Leigh, writer of Holy Blood, Holy Grail is interviewed and his book brought these theories to a broad audience, but he is only quick to point out that evidence is not proof.  Manuscripts found over the centuries may or may be authentic but they may not contain truth.  There is no proof or evidence that the Council of Nicea, for instance, wanted to demean women by eradicating specific books as such except ones which contradicted the generally accepted truths of the early church nor is there any evidence that Constantine “invented” the dogma of the divine nature of Christ.  There is plentiful evidence in the gospels that this was the belief of the majority of Christians from the beginning.   Another fact which contradicts the book is that the Templars were supported by popular support, not by blackmailing the church as the novel suggests.  There is very little evidence that some of the documents discussed by the book even existed at all.  Also, Opus Dei has no interest in eliminating a “holy” blood line since they do not believe in the line to begin with! 

Video ****

Excellent flow, special effects interwoven with interviews and live action makes the ninety minutes seem like ten.

Audio ****

Only Dolby stereo, but an excellent mix with good audio effects adding to but not occluding the crisp narration. 

Features (zero stars)

None other than the program itself.

Summary:

Dan Brown’s ingenious tale is just that---a tale.  It raises intriguing questions, but the reader should not take them too seriously without a study of the history behind the novel and the myths upon which it is based.  Beyond the Da Vinci Code is an excellent investigation into how much of the novel is fiction and the origins of the myths upon which it is based.

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