Sunday, April 6, 2014

33. The DaVinci Code (2006)

Code-name: SangRael

("It means... royal blood"... it's also derived from the French for "Holy Grail")

Director: Ron Howard
Composer: Hans Zimmer [which was nominated for a Golden Globe]
Type: book-to-movie adaptation, drama, thriller, historical fiction

Robert Langdon- Tom Hanks
Sophie Neveu- Audrey Tautou
Lee Teabing- Ian McKellan
Captain Bezu Fache- Jean Reno
Silas- Paul Bettany
Opus Dei Bishop Manuel Aringarosa- Alfred Molina
Remy, Teabing's butler- Jean-Yves Berteloot


As far as religion goes, I'm as casual a Christian as you can get. We were friends with a church-going family and because the patriarch was a reverend, we went a couple times. It never took for me... just a whole lot of reading Bible verses and singing hymns, everyone in the room seeming like they knew them by heart...

But on my own time, I have read my Bible on occasion. One December, I read the first four books of the New Testament and wrote down my favorite verses. And every now and then, I pray to myself, especially when it's over something I'm stressed or worried about.

So... as far as reinterpreting what you thought you knew about the Holy Book, "The DaVinci Code" caught a lot of people's attention. Practically my dad. I think it was one of those many books he bought at an airport, alongside several Tom Clancy, John Grisham and Jack Reacher novels over the years.
I remember him raving about it and even convinced my mom and I read it and the prequel, "Angels and Demons."

With "Angels & Demons," I found it kinda boring compared to "The DaVinci Code," but I loved the movie adaptation. The only negative was that Ewan McGregor wound up being the villain... buzz-kill.

After reading the book, my dad and I saw this in theaters. For a moment, I thought I might have the ticket stub, but I was mistaken. It was May of 2006 and it was a thrilling experience from start to finish.
The only other comments I have to add as far as impressions go; I totally missed the big reveal about Sophie in the book... do not remember that coming up at all. And there was one part of the Prior of Scion scene that I looked forward to seeing play out in the movie, but it never did :( still kinda disappointed about that, but I'll go into more detail later.

Once my SPOILER ALERT warning is posted...

Ok, here we go... for the record, reading the book does help, but unlike with my YA sci-fi/fantasy books that I adhere to like my life depends on them (as if my entries don't already give that away, lol), I'm not demanding it as a prerequisite.
I only read it once in 2005 during my senior year of high school, so I don't remember much, but it was fast-paced and intriguing all at the same time.


The story begins with a dramatic murder that takes place in the Louvre afterhours. Before the victim dies, he scribbles down a message and turns himself into a replication of Leonardo DaVinci's "Vitruvian Man".

At the same time, Harvard symbology professor, Robert Langdon is giving a lecture about how symbols have been used over the years in different contexts. Like how some symbols thought to represent evil were once used for good. Posiden's trident being mistaken for Devil's pitchfork and a swastika once being a symbol of peace.
During a book singing for his "Sacred Feminine," he's called down to the murder scene by Detective Bezu Fache... unaware this was to force a confession, opposed to using his expertise to determine the real killer.

While there, Langdon also meets detective Sophie Neveau, who shows him the complete murder scene (Fache wiped some of the evidence for his own agenda) and tells him how the victim, Jacques Sauniere was her grandfather.

The message read:
Oh draconian devil, oh lame saint
P.S. Find Robert Langdon
and a set of numbers, when pieced together, make up the Fibonacci sequence
Sophie also reveals "P.S." stands for "Princess Sophie" and believes they needed to meet for some important reason.

Besides symbology, Langdon's specialty is puzzles and anagrams, and he determines that the "draconian devil" bit translated to "Leonardo DaVinci The Mona Lisa".
A few clues later, they find a key with a fleur de lis (the crest of the Priory of Scion) and their quest begins.

At first, we think it's about finding Jacques Sauniere's killer, but it winds up being about Sophie and who she really is.


For whatever reason (my mom thinks it has to do with his previous work on "Bosom Buddies" and "Forrest Gump"), my dad does not like Tom Hanks, so he was skeptical about his casting as the lead for this film.
He's not still his favorite actor, but he thought he did a respectable job in these movies.
Then again, the detective work and treasure hunting were probably the biggest things he took away from it.
All around, Tom Hanks is just one of those actors that are really nice guys and have a good range they can work. He does comedies and dramas both really well and he isn't a bad voice actor either.

Other people considered for the same role were Bill Paxton (who dropped out), Russell Crowe (who'd worked with Ron Howard on the Oscar-winning "A Beautiful Mind"), Ralph Fiennes, Hugh Jackman and George Clooney.
I can kinda see (and hear) George Clooney doing this role, but otherwise, I don't think anyone else could have done it better. Tom Hanks has kinda solidified in my mind as this impressive character.

Speaking of "A Beautiful Man," Paul Bettany was cast as the murderer, Silas. I find it a little comical that he does full posterior negativity in this movie... between this and "A Knight's Tale" (where I saw him and Heath Ledger for the first time), you'd think it was a thing for him. How he's unable to keep his clothes on.
But unlike "A Knight's Tale," where Jeffrey Chaucer had a gambling problem and kept losing his clothes, Silas goes full nude (always from behind) for a brutal purpose specific to his faith.

Oh, how they ran all those news pieces afterwards about how Opus Dei isn't as brutal a sect as it's portrayed on this film. They're die-hard Christians in more ways than one. For this specific point, like Silas, some of them wear a cilice (a barbed leg brace that they periodically tighten) and whip themselves. The point is to suffer as Jesus suffered.
Too hardcore for my tastes and luckily for this film, we only have to endure one instance of self-flagellation. Gotta give it up to Paul Bettany, he really does go all out for his acting.

The only other actor I knew going into this was Ian McKellan... from being a "Lord of the Rings" fan, obviously. Of course, for Langdon's British colleague who happens (for the sake of this plot) to be a "Grail scholar," you needed an actor of great respect and esteem. For this specific role, he is such a delight to watch. So into his expertise about The Holy Grail.
As fate would have it (or not, depending on which point you are in the story), four murders were committed within the past several hours. All of them happened to be the current highest ranking officials of the Priory... who keep the truth about the Holy Grail. Jacques Sauniere was the GrandMaster of them all.

As for everyone else, I believe I saw Jean Reno in a "National Treasure" film... a great actor I should see more of because he has a great presence on screen. (Interestingly, Dan Brown said he wrote for Detective Fache with him in mind... gotta love it how stuff works out that way).
Alfred Molina, I know well as Dr. Ock from "Spiderman 2," probably my favorite of the trilogy.

Audrey Tautou, I haven't seen in any other movie. I know she was the lead in "Amelie" and she also played Coco Chanel in a biopic, but for the most part, she's a French actress who sticks to a lot of French films.
Supposedly, Ron Howard fought hard to convince her to do this part, so he must have been a huge fan.

Funny how the movies he directs are so serious and so well made and Ron Howard's career started with making us laugh on "Happy Days." I'd only just started the series last year.

Twists and Turns

The book (and movie) have lots of twists. You kinda need to keep on your toes and if you're religious in any way, it helps to keep an open mind.

My dad got into it because it involves figuring out puzzles, but also because it's history reinterpreted. He had to point out on the first couple pages, how it said the story's based on true events. Alongside him, I can't help but be convinced the events in this story might have some truth to them.

The key leads them to a Swiss Bank account, which leads them to a box decorated with the image of a rose. Inside the box is a cryptex. With the right five letter code, you can release the papyrus inside. Get it wrong or force it open and you unleash a bottle of vinegar inside that erases the messages.
And of course, while all this is going on, Landgon and Sophie are fugitives from law and have to keep pace to avoid Fache, notorious for his unwillingness to give up. Lots of great chase scenes, one of which Langdon and Sophie in a Smart car :-P one of the best scenes in the movie.

The dialogue runs fast so it helps to pay attention because every now and then, you find nuggets of hilarity.
One comes in a conversation with Teabing where they talk about the symbols for spear (^) and chalice (v) stand for male and female. And Teabing says something like "[in the military] the more penises you have, the higher your rank".

Probably my favorite scene in the book is the conversation he and Langdon have, talking about the Holy Grail and stuff. But I remembered it reading differently. I think in the book, he and Langdon were in agreement, adding onto each other's thoughts. In the movie, it comes off more as arguing.

So... the big truth that could possibly destroy the Church if revealed... and supposedly the murders happened to prevent the members of the Priory from doing so...
The Holy Grail isn't the famous chalice, but a chalice in other right. Chalice meaning female because it is the shape of the womb. And it points to one woman in particular, Jesus's companion, Mary Magdalene. (Yeah, whenever The Bible namedropped her, the word "prostitute" was common... apparently to discredit this). Not only was she in DaVinci's The Last Supper, but word is that she was carrying the "royal bloodline" at the time of the Crucifixion.

A very controversial notion because somehow Jesus having a bloodline makes him seem... well, human, opposed to miracle-working son of God.
That and the fact she was the one that was supposed to carry on the Church instead of Saint Peter.
Oh yeah, according to old school Christians, it's like "oh God forbid a woman be in charge of the church"...

Don't worry, I'm not one of those feminists that go crazy about inequality of women and such. But it's one of those reasons why I'm not really big on organized religion.
I haven't read enough of the Bible to see any passages about the supposed "evils" of homosexuality, but that's another one of those things.
I got really worked up a couple years ago when I became acquainted with the "pray the gay away" program... within a couple months of each other, I heard two stories about people (one is one of my best friends) who went through the program and they contemplated suicide because it didn't help them.

The biggest mystery that had to be solved was about Sophie. She was raised by her grandfather, on a lot of puzzles and cryptexes, but left home when she was a teenager. This is hinted at throughout the movie, as is a time in Langdon's childhood when he almost drowned in a well... the reason why he's so claustrophobic

The clue hiding under the rose on the box led them to Westminister Abbey to visit the tomb of another Priory of Scion member, Sir Isaac Newton. Something about an orb that ought to be on a tomb... and that's the answer to the cryptex.

During the course of this, we find out who the true villain of the story is and why Silas was sent on this murderous rampage. And Detective Fache does come to realize he was wrong about Langdon and arrives in time to arrest the right man.

The final clue leads Langdon and Sophie to where the tomb of Mary Magdalene might be.
And the truth about Sophie comes out at Rosslyn Church.

Supposedly Sophie was the only member of her family to survive a car accident and Sauniere wasn't her biological grandfather.
The only part of that spectacular scene that I really missed in the movie was the other reveal that Sophie's brother was alive. The man that greets them at the Church was supposed to be him, but they decided, apparently, that the movie was long enough where the detail was unimportant. :-?

The Score

Although I wouldn't commit his name to memory until seeing a movie further down this list, I'd been unknowingly impressed by Hans Zimmer for years.
His score for "The DaVinci Code" has a lot of range to go with the various pacing of the different scenes. But for me personally, the piece that plays in the last minutes of the movie has as much lasting power as my favorite themes... like "Star Wars" and "Jurassic Park"...

The scene is where Langdon has an epiphany about Mary Magdalene. Her sarcophagus wasn't at the church, but might still lay under the rose....or in this case, the Rose-line" that runs through Paris, marking the original Prime Meridian.
With the final riddle being read by him in a voice over, he takes a nightly stroll back to the beginning of our story... at the Louvre. He kneels before it with the camera zooming under the surface to the casket. And the final shot is of him before the screen goes black.

I get chills every time I think about it. The man's got serious musical talent. So you can be sure he'll come up more as my countdown continues.

Next Week

It's a special moment when an actor or actress makes such a strong impression on me that I follow through other movies on their resumes.
While my next movie isn't the first time I saw this actress, it made sure that me and so many other people (including the Hollywood Foreign Press with a nomination) would not be forgetting her anytime soon.

And it's one of many examples of why theatrical trailers are something I swear by...
Behind franchises (based on books and/or the sci-fi/fantasy genre) and actors I go out of my way to research, they're the biggest reason I go to movies. And 9 times out of 10, the end result is worth the $7. 8-)

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