Review: The Davinci Code
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
[PGP-13] Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Akiva Goldsman (screenplay), Dan Brown (book)

The Da Vinci Code is a vehicle with no air in the tires. Okay, it does make an attempt to proceed in a cerebral manner down a complex roadway--reasons for forgiving some steering problems--still, turn off the dramatic music, take out a couple of its good moments, and the movie would end up in the nearest ditch.

The film begins with an albino monk (Paul Bettany) threatening an art curator in the Louvre at night. The monk uses the old give-me-the-info-or-I'll-shoot routine. The curator complies and the monk shoots anyway--once in the abdomen. (Gosh, and we thought a crazed-looking albino1 with a gun could be trusted.)

A word about homicide: While real handguns are deadly, they're notoriously unreliable at producing quick results, as demonstrated in the infamous FBI Miami Firefight 2. In it a pair of armed robbers, surrounded by 8 FBI agents with drawn handguns, decided to shoot it out. One robber, William Matix was immediately struck by bullets in the head and neck knocking him unconscious. The other, Michael Platt, mortally wounded by several solid body hits, went on to kill 2 FBI agents and wound 5 others. Astoundingly, near the end of the shootout, Platt and a revived Matix loaded themselves into a commandeered FBI car and might have driven away were it not for agent Edmundo Mireles (himself badly wounded) who rushed the car and shot both Matix and Platt multiple times in the head. At that, Platt's heart was still going when EMTs arrived.

Apparently having more faith in a single handgun bullet than in God the monk leaves the curator writhing in pain on the floor, without bothering to deliver the coup de grace.  Indeed, the monk takes his faith in violence to an extreme: he actually believes the curator's last words.

Away from the crime scene, the monk reports his findings to his elated superior, followed by a brief break to refresh. He whips his back raw and resets the cilice (torture device? 3 ) on his leg--causing bleeding and putting himself in so much pain he can hardly walk. All this makes perfect sense.  When one is in the middle of a murderous quest, painful injuries are a great help for everything from one's accuracy with firearms to one's street fighting abilities. Besides, an albino monk in a robe with a heavy limp, what a great way to meld into the crowd.

Meanwhile, the mortally wounded curator wanders around the Louvre scrawling cryptic messages with his invisible ink pen, undresses himself, draws a pentagram on his chest with blood, lays himself out in the position of Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, and dies. His actions are a bit much, but we've already established that mortally wounded individuals can perform amazing feats.

The really amazing part is the idea that a monk could enter the most famous art museum in the world after it was closed, fire a fatal bullet, and exit without being detected. Even before being shot, the curator had defensively pulled a painting off the wall triggering an alarm. Surely a major museum would have all sorts of video cameras and electronic sensors but apparently no one was monitoring them. No one detected the homicidal monk, saw the wounded curator staggering about, or responded to the alarm--at least not until the curator was dead.

The ensuing police investigation was about as effective as the security system. The cops immediately pinned the affair on the hapless Harvard Religious Symbology professor, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) without bothering to look at security camera tapes, interview witnesses who might have seen  the albino monk limping away, check out Langdon's alibi, test his hands for gun shot residue, etc. Why? Ostensibly because the dying curator had scrawled Langdon's name on the floor in invisible ink. The real reason: Captain Fache (Jean Reno), the officer in charge,  had inside information from a Catholic bishop who broke his solemn vows by revealing that Langdon had acknowledged wicked deeds in the confessional and was an evil man. Yep, those Religious Symbology professors are a suspicious lot (though devout about confessing sins) and priests who break their solemn vows, completely trustworthy.

The naive Langdon is summoned to the crime scene. About to be arrested, he suddenly says he needs to go to the restroom and splash water on his face. The ever suspicious Captain Fache readily agrees and lets Langdon leave, unescorted. Once inside the restroom he's joined by cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tatou) who reveals to Langdon he's bugged with a GPS tracking device the size of a small button. Our thought: why? Why bug him if he's about to be arrested? Don't the police know how to find him in the lock up? If they're worried about him slipping away, why not have an officer accompany him?

Instead, the police monitor Langdon's whereabouts on a laptop that conveniently represents his position, within two feet no less, as a red dot on a map so detailed it shows the position of individual toilets in the men's rest room. To perform its wonders, the tracking device, would have to reliably detect GPS signals--through the building--coming from four different satellites located 12,600 miles (20,200 km) above the Earth's surface. Even if the structure did not completely block it, the signal would be refracted and reflected by the building's materials creating positioning errors in the process 4.

To broadcast information to the police laptop, the tracking device would have to contain a battery, CPU, RAM, 2-way radio, accurate clock, and a suitable operating system capable of handling wireless network communication protocols, along with application software, all in a tiny package 5. Due to its small battery size, the device's broadcast range would be limited--effective only when located within a wireless network's communication grid. Most commercially-available real-time GPS tracking devices are at least the size of a pack of cigarettes and have price tags of at least $500. While conceivable, a tracking device the size of a button with mapping software showing detailed building layouts would be cutting edge technology, costly, and far from fool proof. Again why bother?

Back in the restroom, Langdon and Neveu are desperate to escape. They look out the window, but it's too high off the ground to simply jump. Instead they embed the tracking device in a bar of soap 6 and toss it into the back of a passing sand-filled dump truck. What a lucky break; evidently, the French don't use liquid soap dispensers.

Successfully tossing a bar of soap from a multistory window into the back of a moving dump truck in the street below would itself be a pretty good physics accomplishment, but jumping and safely landing--a major death-defying physics feat. Assuming the jumper had the requisite jumping talent and a sufficient place to launch from, he would have to estimate his trajectory as well as the truck's path and jump so that the two would coincide at the landing.

If the truck were 20 ft (6 m) below the window and moving at 35 mph (56 kph) and Langdon leaped horizontally with a velocity of 5 mph (8 kph) he would need to jump when the middle of the sand filled truck was about 50 ft (15 m) down the street. After his feet left the windowsill he'd have no way to correct for errors. If he jumped too soon he'd smash into the truck's windshield. If he jumped too late he'd hit the pavement behind the truck in the middle of traffic. If he jumped at an upward angle instead of horizontally, he'd have to jump even earlier. Assuming the sand pile was 15 ft (4.6 m) long, an error of ± 0.18 sec. in timing the jump would be enough to miss. The really big problem, however, is the fact that the rest room is located on a bridge over the roadway. The vehicles are traveling perpendicular to the restroom's wall and emerge suddenly on the roadway below. In other words, there is no way to see the dump truck until it is directly below the window.

Still, all of the above information is based on mathematical abstractions. Try imagining yourself standing on a pedestrian bridge over a roadway with trucks passing beneath it. Would you be willing to risk jumping even if the mathematics said you could make it?

When the laptop reveals that Langdon is on the move, Captain Fache rushes to the open bathroom window and spots the dump truck moving down the street. He instantly evaluates that the transmitter is in the back. Of the two possible explanations, Langdon tossing the transmitter into the back of the dump truck or jumping into it, the toss is clearly the most probable. So, Captain Fache, along with his entire police team (except for one, evidently a dufus), abandon the crime scene and go on a wild goose chase in pursuit of the truck. Obviously, a Harvard professor, well studied in the mysteries of religious symbols, would be just the kind to jump. The police exit gives Langdon and Neveu freedom to wander around the Louvre reading and deciphering the various cryptic messages left by the dying curator. Just as the police return, Langdon and Neveu drive away. Remarkably the police never see them.

While the movie's bad guys (including the duped Captain Fache) are pedestrian, the movie's rare moments of humor are actually subtle and erudite. For example, after a series of events, Langdon and Neveu conclude the Holy Grail is real and seek the wisdom of a rich eccentric Englishman (Ian McKellen) now living in France--setting up some of the funniest lines in the movie. Langdon and Neveu must answer three very British questions before being granted entrance into the Englishman's mansion--an allusion to Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which people searching for the Grail must answer 3 questions before being allowed to pass over a bridge.

Eventually, Langdon and Neveu end up in England searching for the tomb of a knight whose funeral was presided over by a pope. After an aha moment, Langdon suddenly realizes that they're seeking the tomb of, none other than the famous physicist, Sir Isaac Newton. According to the movie, Newton had incurred "the wrath of the [Catholic] church" by discovering the principle of gravity. So rather than a Catholic Pope, Alexander Pope presided over Newton's funeral. Yes, Newton did have conflict with the Catholic church: for one he was Anglican.

Newton also had some problems with the Anglican Church. As a Cambridge professor he was required to be ordained a Church of England minister. Although Newton was intensely religious, and devoted to God, he did not support all of his own church's doctrines and felt he could not in good faith accept being ordained. So, was he tortured and forced to sign confessions? No! The head of the Church of England, King Charles II, simply created a special exception. Newton remained employed but not ordained and died with celebrity status.

Langdon and Neveu are met at Newton's tomb by the eccentric Englishman, Sir Leigh Teabing, who was supposedly kidnapped by the albino monk in cahoots with Teabing's butler. But, it turns out Teabing is the evil mastermind behind all the killings, and in an ironic twist on "the butler did it", has killed his butler and sent the police after the albino. Langdon and Neveu are, of course, taken aback by running into Teabing. In response, Teabing pulls a snub-nosed .38 and demands they hand over, and tell him how to open the cryptex containing direction to the Holy Grail. Why he does this is a mystery. All he had to to do is say that he had escaped, wait until Langdon and Neveu found the Grail, and then pull the .38. But, here's the real surprise: Teabing wants the world to know about the Holy Grail and descendent of Jesus, in hopes of bringing down the Catholic Church. Why does he even need the .38 ?

As for the albino, not only does he fail in his murderous mission but gets himself killed by armed British police. At the time, the monk is kneeling on the ground looking downward with a pistol raised over his head, pointed in a somewhat random direction. The gun's action is locked open--a sign that it's out of bullets. The police order him to drop his gun and when he doesn't immediately comply, shoot him dead, in the tradition of the untamed British cowboy.

According to the movie Jesus married Mary Magdalene and got her pregnant. Following the Crucifixion she had to go into hiding for her own protection and became the Real Holy Grail. Some time after she had died, a secret society (the Priory of Sion) began protecting her offspring and the stone sarcophagus containing her body. Discovery of the grail and the descendent of Jesus would supposedly destroy the very foundations of the Catholic Church and bring it crashing down.

The albino monk was supposed to single-handedly dispose of all this messiness by killing the remaining Priory members, assassinating Christ's offspring, and destroying Mary Magdalene's remains along with the sarcophagus and associated documents--all to save the Catholic Church. Jack hammering a stone sarcophagus into small pieces would take time. Pulverizing it with explosives would attract attention and require expertise, not to mention explosives. Any destruction attempt would need, careful planning, crowd control, and the collaboration or at least coercion of individuals in charge of the site. The albino monk shows up spur-of-the-moment in the middle of the night where he thinks the sarcophagus is hidden and doesn't even bother to bring a hammer. Even if he could destroy the sarcophagus, we're once again left wondering why.

Proving to the Christian world that Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood person is telling them something they already accept. Even the most conservative Christian who clings steadfastly to the Trinity believes that Jesus was in human form when he walked on Earth. If he was not, he could not have died on the cross as an atonement for humanity's sins--a major tenet of the Christian faith. However, no amount of historical or DNA evidence can prove to a believer that Christ was just a human. To the true believer, Christ's divinity and spiritual authority did not come from human genes, so there's not reason to think his spiritual power can be passed on by them. Indeed, being Christian cannot be inherited from one's parents. It requires a personal decision.

Certainly, a "real" descendent of Jesus could gather a following, if she chose to do so. People claiming to be God, Jesus, or some special messenger are fairly common and often do succeed at finding followers. Mass murderer Charles Manson, for example, claimed to be Jesus and put together a small group of disciples willing to kill for him. Of course, having his recruits stoned on drugs helped a lot. Building the type of massive following that might threaten the church, would not be so easy. Such tasks usually require a leader with incredible charisma. A few miracles or healings also help.

Proving that Jesus had a wife and descendents would be a remarkable finding that would undoubtedly shake things up, but marriage is, after all, a sacrament in the Catholic Church and a central feature of fundamentalist Christianity. If the Reformation couldn't do it, then certainly the idea of a married Jesus would not be enough to destroy the Roman Catholic Church.

On the other hand, proving the wife and offspring theory would require more than a stone sarcophagus and 2000 year old remains. Mary Magdalene's mitochondrial DNA could be passed pretty much intact through an unbroken chain of female offspring. But, even if mitochondrial DNA testing showed the living descendent was related to the remains and carbon 14 dating indicated that the remains were indeed about 2000 years old, such data would not prove that the remains were those of Mary Magdalene or that she had married Jesus and borne his child. It's not like Mary Magdalene left us her dental records, marriage license, or honeymoon photos.

Even if Jesus had left a DNA sample, only 50% of an offspring's nuclear DNA comes from a given parent. After 2000 years, a female decedent's DNA would likely bear little, if any, resemblance. When all the scientific tests were complete and results presented, believers would continue believing and doubters continue doubting.

The movie has understandably offended some Christians, yet is clearly fiction. True, many of the "facts" the movie uses to give it a sense of reality are themselves works of fiction or misplaced so far out of context that they might as well be. For example, the notion that the Priory of Sion was founded in 1099 to protect the Grail has been shown to be an elaborate hoax based on forgeries 7.  Still, facts aside, the movie fails to impress even as fiction. Its plot depends too heavily on clichés, and illogic while failing to develop its characters. Neveu, for example is supposedly a professional cryptologist trained since birth, yet never breaks a single code. She appears as though she'd be helpless without Langdon. As for the dramatic conclusion, when we finally got there, we felt like like we'd been driven on flat tires all the way to an exciting vacant lot in Midland Texas. "So you're a descendent of Jesus? How 'bout that; suppose it'll rain?" We'd liked to have pulled over much earlier, thrown on a different set of wheels, and gone, not only faster but to a more stimulating destination.

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