Simon Dillon reviews the film based on Dan Browns novel

Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou in The Da Vinvi Code
Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou in The Da Vinvi Code

Here's an idea for a bestselling novel/film: The De Niro Code. A film student stumbles across a coded message in Taxi Driver, and uncovers a conspiracy that could shake the very foundations of cinema. He discovers Travis Bickle did not go on a bloody rampage at the end, but instead married Harvey Keitel's character (who is in fact a woman), and their descendants are alive today.

OK, that's silly. But its more probable than the nonsensical theory put forward by The Da Vinci Code (about to be well and truly spoilt here); namely, that the disciple that should be John in The Last Supper painting is in fact Mary Magdalene, and that Da Vinci was trying to tell the world through coded messages in his work that she had married Jesus, emigrated to France and that his descendants live today, protected by a secret society called the Priory of Sion.

I'm not going to bore you by systematically debunking the so-called evidence for this absurd theory, since it's been done so brilliantly elsewhere, and most amusingly by Tony Robinson on a Channel 4 documentary that showed how much of the "research" and "facts" listed on page one of Dan Brown's bestselling novel were based on a practical joke perpetrated by a French prankster in an attempt to return the monarchy to France. A friend of mine also pointed out that if Christianity is so anti-women, then why did were the Catholics so desperate to elevate Mary the mother of Jesus into a divine figure? Surely a "Mrs Jesus Christ" would have been even better!

As you can see, I am very much in a huff about The Da Vinci Code. Why? Because Dan Brown is trying to put forward his theory as truth, and there are countless people out there unversed in the necessary Biblical and historical lore to realise it is rubbish. As Hitler said; the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.

If Dan Brown's book had simply been passed off as a work of fiction, I might have a somewhat more tolerant attitude towards it. After all, there is no shortage of anti-Christian literature, and in a fallen world, the best mankind can hope for is a free, democratic society where there is a level playing field for truth to be proclaimed alongside the ugliest of lies.

But when this kind of material gets passed off as fact, things get a little stickier. Remember the film U-571 a few years ago? It showed an American submarine crew heroically capture an enigma decoding machine from the Germans in World War II. With its bold tagline "Based on a true story", millions of Americans lapped it up as historical fact. Yet in truth the Americans weren't even in the war in 1940 and it was the British who captured the decoding machine. Again, perhaps this could be tolerated if it were marketed as fiction, but most people accept films they watch that are "based on a true story", as being true. How much more seriously then, should Christians take a story that distorts the truth of the Gospel?

When the book came out, my father (who is a Christian) shocked me by saying it was a "rattling good yarn". As I gawped incredulously, he pointed out that of course he didn't take it seriously, as it was so obviously absurd. For one thing there is nothing new about the Mary Magdalene theory. It has been around for 2,000 years as anyone who has read the Gnostic Gospels will tell you. The real conspiracy has been against the Church, since it has had to deal with endless false gospels, false teachings and distortions of the Christian message following the resurrection of Jesus. Matthew chapter 27 tells how there was a conspiracy from the word go to distort the truth of the resurrection, and The Da Vinci Code is simply the latest in 2,000 years worth of attack on the truth.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as well educated as my father, and to paraphrase the Bible, in the last days people will believe anything other than the truth. I often joke about the endless talk amongst Christians of the "end times" and have made up my own apocryphal signs of the end ("In the last days there shall be remakes and rumours of remakes"). However, if we truly are in the "last days" as a lot of Christians seem to think, then The Da Vinci Code is definitely a sign of the times.

To be fair, there is a tiny concession made to Christians at the end of the film where Tom Hanks suggests Jesus could still have been divine and married Mary Magdalene (something that wasn't in the book). But it's too little too late. The damage to historically ignorant audience members has already been done, and judging by the comments I overheard from people coming out of the cinema, my worst fears have been realised. For every well informed person who knows the Da Vinci Code's "facts" are anything but, there are several others who do not read books, listen to critics, historians or Christians, and instead feed on a diet of Eastenders, Big Brother and films based on books by Dan Brown. These are the people I am concerned for, as their eternal destinies are being placed in jeopardy by this insidious deception.

Anyway, onto the film. On a purely aesthetic level, Ron Howard's adaptation is surprisingly boring, though not quite the turkey critics are making it out to be. Nevertheless, I thought The Da Vinci Code would make a better movie than it was book, especially as trashy novels sometimes translate into classic films (The Godfather for example). Instead it's far too long and packed with lengthy exposition leaving little room for thrills. Like the Harry Potter films, it is too faithful to the source material. Where it does reinvent for the screen, the film comes across as patronising, for example in its use of flashbacks as sloppy cinematic shorthand for historically ignorant audience members.

On the performance front, Tom Hanks was bereft of his usual energy, and frankly miscast. Someone like Kevin Spacey might have been better in the role. Jean Reno, Audrey Tatou, Alfred Molina and Paul Bettany provide unremarkable support, and only Ian McKellen infuses an iota of drama into the tedious proceedings.

Although critics have sided with historians and the church in slating the film, it will still be a box office smash. Therefore, in response, I suggest Christians take every opportunity to debunk its theories by brushing up on their apologetics, since The Da Vinci Code is quite possibly one of the greatest deceptions I have seen unleashed in recent years. Its abhorrent message denies the divinity of Christ, and suggests that the only way to get near God is to have ritualistic sex whilst other cult members chant and watch!

The Da Vinci Code also tries to distract people from the wonderful news that Jesus died for the sins of all mankind, rose from the dead, and that through him we can have eternal life if we choose to. Like all lies, the truth will outlast it, but I fear for those who are deceived by it (Christians included), and particularly for Dan Brown. To quote Mark chapter 9: "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck."

I certainly don't intend to hang a millstone around my neck by recommending The Da Vinci Code to anyone. Both the book and film remain a monumental slice of heresy. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.