Da Vinci Code
A very popular and controversial book by Dan Brown. The movie starred Tom Hanks as Professor Robert Langdon, a symbologist [fictional career] at Harvard. Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf and older Magneto, amongst other roles in his illustrious career) appears as Sir Leigh Teabing. Alfred Molina (the bad guy in the live-action Sorcerer’s Apprentice, briefly appeared in Prince of Persia, he voiced bad guy Viggo Grimborne in the How To Train Your Dragon series Race to the Edge [love the show, we will definitely cover it down the road]; but he’s most notable as Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2…and may be reprising the role in the upcoming Tom Holland Spider-Man movie) pops in as a bishop. And the talented Paul Bettany (Dr. Stephen Maturin in Master and Commander, Geoffrey Chauce in A Knight’s Tale, Jarvis/Vision in the MCU, Dryden Vos in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Lord Melbourne in The Young Victoria) is once again naked at some point as Silas. The film is also directed by Ron Howard (who has directed Tom Hanks in these movies as well as Splash and Apollo 13).
Angels and Demons was the book’s prequel, but the film’s sequel since they didn’t know if Da Vinci Code would be successful [there are further books in the series, including The Lost Symbol (which I have read) and Inferno, which I just started reading [not nearly as engaging at the moment as Once Upon a Time or Librarians] and unaware they made into a film as well…I shall have to investigate]. Hanks returns as Langdon, joined by Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi, Lumiere in the live-action Beauty and the Beast [where McKellan was Cogsworth], as well as appearing in Miss Potter, Moulin Rouge, and Down with Love) as Camerlengo Patrick McKenna [he was Italian in the book; they changed him to Irish because McGregor is certainly not Italian]. Stellan Skarsgård (Bootstrap Bill Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, Bill in Mamma Mia, Captain Tupolev in The Hunt for Red October, and he even appears in the MCU as Eric Selvig) is Commander Richter. If the Inspector looks familiar, he was General Glozelle in Prince Caspian. (And yes, Alfred Molina provides the opening voiceover).
Da Vinci Code opens with an old man’s death inside the Louvre, Silas searching for answers. Robert Langdon is called in because of the strange markings…and the police believe him to be a suspect. He’s helped out by Sophie, who turns out to be the curator’s granddaughter. Langdon was supposed to meet with the curator, but the man never showed. Invisible ink at the crime scene reads “O Draconian devil, O lame saint,” and the Fibonacci sequence out of order. If you rearrange the letters, it spells out Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa. There are painted the words “so dark the con of man,” leading to Madonna of the Rocks where a cross topped with the Fleur de Lis is found. Langdon and Sophie follow the clues, after distracting the police.
Langdon goes on to tell Sophie about the Priory of Scion, that worked against the church because it guards the secret of God’s power on Earth. Opposing the Priory is another secret society, Opus Dei (to which Silas belongs). Langdon claims that the Templar Knights were the military arm of the Priory, and that the reason for the Crusades were to find an artifact. They did, but then the church turned on them and killed them. Langdon tells Sophie they are searching for the Holy Grail. The key leads to a Swiss bank with a long term safety deposit box. Inside the box is a wooden box topped with a rose, supposedly the symbol for the Holy Grail. But the police are onto Sophie and Robert, though they escape thanks to the manager because of a “safe passage clause” that came with the deposit box. Except he turns on them once they’re safe and tries to kill them. Robert manages to knock him out and they drive to an old friend of his who is a Grail historian, Leigh Teabing.
Inside the rose box is a cryptex, designed by da Vinci. A five letter word will open the cryptex, but if it is forced, the secret map inside will be destroyed. Teabing lets Robert and Sophie in after they have answered three questions. He then explains that the Holy Grail is not a cup, but instead is a woman. The bloodline of Jesus Christ; he married Mary Magdalene, but that was not the image that the Church wanted of their Savior, so they hid the secret [I must admit, McKellan pulls off academic speech rather well].
Silas has been after this secret as well and has made his way to Teabing’s house and attacks. Leigh and Sophie take him down after he knocks Robert out. Leigh determines they need to head for England now. They find a clue beneath the rose in the box; they must find a knight interred in London, overseen by a Pope. They first head to Temple Church, but the knights are effigies, not tombs. Silas pops back up and kidnaps Leigh. Sophie and Robert make a run for it and Robert finally deduces that “A. Pope” means Alexander Pope, who oversaw Newton’s funeral (because Newton’s work on gravity angered the church, supposedly).
We discover that Leigh has been playing both sides of the game. He is the voice of the “Teacher” that has been instructing Opus Dei. He sends cops to kill Silas, who accidentally shoots his bishop mentor while trying to escape. The bishop was also the one who planted the idea with the French police that Langdon was responsible. Leigh catches up to Sophie and Robert at Westminster Abbey, where they’re trying to figure out what orb is missing from Newton’s tomb. That orb will be the five letter word they need to unlock the cryptex. Leigh admits he will do anything to find the Grail. When he threatens to shoot Sophie, Robert works out the clue. He then throws the cryptex to Leigh, who crashes to the ground, breaking the cryptex. The police arrive then and arrest Leigh.
But Robert had worked out the clue: apple. The scroll inside points Sophie and him to ancient Roslyn, where the tomb of Mary Magdalene lies under starry sky. Their next stop is Roslyn Chapel in Scotland (supposedly built by the Templars [it was built by the Sinclair family in the fifteenth century]). The couple ventures into the basement where there are carvings of stars and they find a secret door down further. But there is no sarcophagus. There is research, detailing the bloodline and Robert finally makes the connection; Sophie was not the curator’s actual granddaughter. The curator was the Grand Master of the Priory of Scion and he took Sophie in when the rest of her family were killed. He trained and guarded her; for she is the descendant of Mary Magdalene [yes, the Sinclairs are descendants of the Saint-Clairs of Normandy, France…which Saint-Clair is actually a place name, so not really “the oldest family in France”].
They meet more of the Priory, who will protect Sophie. Robert advises that she could reveal her secret to the world, but would the living descendent of Jesus Christ destroy or renew faith? Back in Paris, Robert mulls over the Rose Line, which is a trail that runs through Paris. He follows it and finds one over the Louvre, where the bottom of the glass pyramid meets a mirrored sculpture. We’re shown that deep below that lies the actual sarcophagus, beneath the starry sky of Paris.
Angels and Demons begins with a Pope’s death and the ceremonial events that follow. At the same time, the collider in Cern creates anti-matter for the first time in a large enough quantity to be studied. Then one of the canisters is stolen. The Vatican Police visit Robert Langdon at Harvard, requesting his help because it appears that the Illuminati have resurfaced. He wrote a book on the subject and his recent involvement with the church (meaning the Da Vinci Code) have recommended him to their service. The Inspector is pleased for Langdon to help, but Commander Ritcher doesn’t trust him. The four favored Cardinals have been kidnapped and are threatened to be executed once an hour, by the Illuminati. The Illuminati are a secret society made up by scientists who were persecuted by the church for their radical thinking.
Robert teams up with Vittoria, the lead scientist on the antimatter that was stolen and is now shown to be beneath Vatican City somewhere, where thousands have gathered to find out who will be named the new Pope. It’s now a race around Rome to discover where the Cardinals are hidden, which may lead to the secret Illuminati church. First, Robert needs access to the Vatican archives in order to find the first clue, hidden in Galileo’s journals. Robert is granted access by Patrick; he holds some authority now since he was the Pope’s chamberlain. (It is an exciting dash around Rome, but hard to write out.)
Robert manages to rescue the last Cardinal; they are too late to save the others each time they get to the marker. He begins to suspect Commander Ritcher and is almost proven correct when Ritcher is discovered threatening Patrick. Patrick has the final brand on his chest from the Illuminati. It is also discovered that the previous Pope was poisoned, but now they have an idea where the antimatter is located. Patrick agrees to take a helicopter up and let it detonate in the air, rather than below ground. It seems like Patrick is the hero.
Until Robert has a hunch. He finds security footage showing Ritcher confronting Patrick. It was Patrick who arranged for the antimatter to be stolen because he feels that the church is going soft by embracing science. If he resurrected the Illuminati, it would unite Christianity and bring faith back to the forefront. Robert and Vittoria go to the head Cardinals and show them the footage. Instead of them electing Patrick, he is to be arrested, though he burns himself alive before he can be handcuffed. Instead, the Cardinals elect the final preferred Cardinal, who takes the name Luke, signaling that the world needs faith and science. In thanks to Robert, he allows Robert to access the archives in order to finish his book, on the condition that in his will, the works are gifted back to the Vatican.
I first read Da Vinci Code for a project in high school; I recall the teacher not wholly agreeing with my assessment on the book, though we did go as a class to see the film when it released. My friend, who was strongly religious, whispered disagreement with the film during the show. It has also been proven after the release of his books, that statements Dan Brown makes as “fact” are inaccurate.
My take? These are exciting and interesting books, a good page-turner. The movies are also fantastic action-adventure films, but yes, a bit controversial. I made the remark to a teacher once that I prefer the “Indiana Jones version of the Holy Grail.” And really, da Vinci and Arthurian legends have little in common; they’re from different cultures, one born in Italy, the other with a strong basis in Britain with influences from France…yeah, you can thank the French for the love triangle. But because a lot of history is unknown since records are hard to find for some things, conspiracies are born to explain what we don’t know. I do recommend both the books and movies as a good time, just don’t take them at face value.
Up Next: The best action-adventure movies, Indiana Jones