In 2003, Dan Brown released a book called The Da Vinci Code. It became an international phenomenon, selling over 80 million copies by the end of the decade. In 2006, director Ron Howard joined forces with his long-time collaborator Tom Hanks to bring the film to the big screen. The film was a huge success, pulling in over 750 million dollars worldwide on a 125 million dollar budget. There is only one problem with the film: it doesn’t make any sense.
Now, at this stage, I would like to show my cards. Generally I do not like to write in a first person perspective. I think articles should attempt to be as objective as possible, regardless of whether you’re writing a review, a news story, or whatever else it may be. To me, a writer’s individual opinion is meaningless in most cases. With that said, I need to talk about the internal logic of this film, and I can’t do that without approaching it in a subjective way. Before I continue, let me add that I have not read the book this movie is based on. So if any of my issues with the film’s internal logic is addressed in the original source material, you’ll have to forgive me.
The film, much like the book, is a murder mystery where professor Robert Langdon (played by Hanks in the film) needs to find the killer. As the film evolves, you learn more about the motivations of the killer, and what secrets they’re attempting to hide. However, there are three things that do not make any sense within the film. One is a slight nitpick, but I feel inclined to mention it nonetheless. The other two sort of ruin the entire set-up for me.
So, first, let’s talk about the murder of Jacques Sauniere (played by Jean-Pierre Marielle). It is the event that starts the film, the domino that falls to begin the internal motion of the story. We as the viewer see Sauniere get shot by Silas (played by Paul Bettany). We later learn that before he died, Jacques wrote three riddles. One by his body, where he also displayed himself as the Vitruvian Man. This riddle leads our heroes to the Mona Lisa, where they find a new riddle that leads them to a different painting. Behind this painting they find a key, as well as a riddle that set’s the rest of the film in motion.
My problem with this set-up is that it brings to mind a lot of questions. Did he have the riddles in mind beforehand, or did he come up with them then and there? Did he write them in that order, so that he potentially risked dying before finishing his clue? Or did he write them the other way around, so he risked them never finding it in the first place? More importantly, if he had the time to do all this, why didn’t he try to call for help? As I said, this is more of a nitpick for me. It doesn’t ruin the entire film, but it sets up way more questions than I think the film is aware of.
Rather, what ruins the film for me is the implication of the film’s secret. At this stage, I’m going to spoil the film’s twist. If you haven’t seen the film, or read the book, I’d urge you to stop reading. If you’re still with me, the film’s twist is that there’s a secret tomb that holds the bones of Mary Magdalena. Before she died, Mary allegedly had a baby with Jesus Christ, so if they can find her bones they can perform a DNA test to find the living relative of Jesus on earth.
This is where the film lost me, and I’ll tell you why. First, even if you found the bones there’s A) no way to prove they belonged to Mary Magdalena, B) no way to prove that the person potentially related to the bones being a descendant of Jesus. With these things in mind, it gets annoying when the film’s characters pretend like this revelation would alter Christianity as we know it. I suppose I should add that I am not religious in the slightest. So my issues with this film simply have to do with the film’s rationale. It doesn’t make sense that the characters believe this sort of revelation would be all that life-changing, or that the Vatican would bend over backwards trying to hide this secret. Granted, the Vatican has worked hard to quell rumors in the past, but this one seems too inconsequential, so I don’t think they would’ve bothered.
If we start with the first issue, proving the bones belonged to Mary Magdalena. At best, what you have is bones you could realistically prove are 2.000 years old. You have no way of proving they actually belonged to the person you claim. So what reason would anyone have to believe you? If they did find this tomb, and proved that they’re in possession of 2.000 year old bones, why would anyone care? They’d likely briefly acknowledge your finding, then go about their day as usual, like they do with most historical findings.
The second is two-fold of course. First, how do you find the relative, and then how do you prove they’re a descendant of Jesus? The film answers the first in the most shoe-horned way possible, by revealing that Langdon’s partner for this adventure, Sophie Neveu (played by Audrey Tautou) is actually the descendant of Mary. They don’t really explain how anyone has come to this conclusion, which brings up an interesting follow-up question: Could you reliably confirm ancestry between someone born today and someone born over 2.000 years ago? How accurate would a DNA match really be on relatives that are that far apart? If we ignore that question for a second though, how do you prove that this person, who’s an ancestor of the bones you possess, is also the descendant of Jesus? You can’t, can you?
So this is why the movie falls apart in my opinion. This idea that religious leaders would murder their way across millennia to protect a secret no one would be able to prove, and likely no one would actually believe, is too far-fetched. I know I’m probably overthinking all this. I should just enjoy the movie, and move on. However, every now and then, I’ll watch a movie that creates this sort of response in me. It stretches so far beyond the illusion of disbelief I can’t accept it. It happens when a film presents a premise that neither works within the movie’s framework, or a real-life framework. When this film pretends like the revelation of these bones would alter Christianity forever, I just can’t accept it. At best, it would create a small cult that starts to believe it’s true, which sort of already happens within the film. In the grand scheme of things though, it wouldn’t change a single thing.