The Da Vinci Code: Wasted Jokes and the Mechanisms of Revelation
Now then, if you (whoever 'you' may be) are familiar with my work, here on Hub Pages, and you read my previous book/movie review of The Da Vinci Code, you may recall that I reviewed the novel unfavorably.
However I want to make something clear: I was not and am not disparaging Mr. Dan Brown's skill as a writer. I think he is a fine writer. I believe that he wrote the book that he was contracted to write with his publisher.
But Mr. Brown, himself, presumably submitted the initial proposal for the novel; and it is, therefore, that initial proposal (perhaps with one or two revisions; who can say?) that was, again, presumably approved by the publisher and then acted upon by Mr. Brown and the publisher's editorial personnel.
What I'm saying is that, in my opinion, there was a strategic mistake in the novel's plan, which wasted a perfectly good joke and was vague-to-nonexistent as to its mechanism of revelation.
Three quick points:
- Even though, in my previous review, I called The Da Vinci Code a "Scooby Doo adventure without the fun," I believe that Mr. Brown executed a novel of that sort as well as anyone could have; it's just that I think a book of that sort should not have been written given the subject matter. This is that strategic mistake I alluded to.
- I just want to say, once again, that I do believe the Mr. Brown is a fine writer. For me, proof of this was his novel, "Angels and Demons." This is a much, much, much better book that The Da Vinci Code, which, among other things, benefitted from a better strategic plan.
- The Da Vinci Code movie, in my view, unavoidably suffered from the very nature of its source novel.
If you are reading this I am going to assume that you have some familiarity with Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
I say the following, not as an insult, but merely as shorthand for the sake of brevity, to maintain a brisk narrative speed of this essay: Dan Brown's Robert Langdon adventures can be thought of as high brow Scooby Doo adventures.
Side note: If The Da Vinci Code is a "Scooby Doo adventure without the fun," Angels and Demons restored a lot of that missing fun.
In The Da Vinci Code, Harvard symbol scholar, Robert Langdon, is assisted in his high brow Scooby Doo adventure by one Sophie Neveu, a cryptographer with the French police.
Ms. Neveu happens one of the last biological descendants (along with her brother) of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It turns out, for the purposes of the story, that Jesus of Nazareth was fully human, got married, had sex, and sired children.
Here comes the wasted joke
Instead of the plot we got, the book should have been about the Catholic Church's attempt to kill Sophie Neveu (for our hypothetical purpose, let's call her the very last biological descendant of Jesus) --- as some commentator or other remarks upon the irony.
The fact that "the god" had to be slain in order to have a religion; and now, in order to keep that faith "alive," "the god" (or the god's descendant/reincarnated version) needs to be slain, or slain "again." I will attempt to explain this awkward construction later.
Now, when I use the word "joke," in this context, I am not talking about an lol, ha ha "funny" thing. I am talking about "black humor," or "dark humor," or irony.
The Mechanism of Revelation
The Da Vinci Code, both as it is and as I would hypothetically restructure it, is an example of what we might call a conspiracy-uncovering story.
Any "conspiracy-uncovering" story must have a solid mechanism of revelation.
The question is this: How is the hero going to tell "the world" what he has discovered in a way that is dramatically impactful?
In the film, They Live (1988) the alien conspiracy is revealed to "the world," or, at least, America, in a very straightforward way. The heroes eventually take control of a television station and arrange to show the land the truth on all of their television screens. "The people" are made to see that "they are among us."
Because the mechanism of revelation was worked out, "They Live" is a coherent film that knows where it is going and what it is doing. I'm not going to claim that the film is an action extravaganza, but it is not the crushing bore that Soylent Green (1973) is.
Soylent Green does not have its mechanism of revelation worked out. As a result of this, the movie rambles on before fizzling to a stop. The movie ends with Charlton Heston sputtering into the night air, like a pathetic madman: "Soylent Green is people." This big reveal has no dramatic impact.
The Da Vinci Code, as presented, needed to ask and answer two questions:
- Mechanically, how was the true identity of Jesus going to be revealed "to the world"?
- What was the anticipated effect of this revelation on the religious/intellectual world status quo, with regard to God, religion, and the Catholic Church in particular?
The book provides no answer to the first question, which means that the conspiracy-uncovering novel, The Da Vinci Code had no practical solution, which is a problem. The book offers a vague, unconvincing suspicion thrown at the second question.
What if "the world" "learned," or "found out," or "were told" about the "truth" about Jesus's "true identity"?
Would this result in the worldwide collapse of the Catholic Church, perhaps along with a generalized invalidation of religion?
Is that how human society works?
Hey World! We have "PROOF" that Jesus was merely a mortal man --- a very wise, perhaps visionary prophet, but still 100% human.
This is the central claim of the novel in question: The Da Vinci Code.
What is the impact of this supposed to be "on the world"?
Well, in real life, over a billion of the Earth's peoples already believe this. This is, as I understand it, the doctrinal belief of the world's Muslims.
It is not even the case that all of the world's "Christians" believe in the divinity of Jesus. Unless I am badly mistaken, the rejection of the Godhood of Jesus is a cornerstone of the Unitarian Universalist philosophy.
We should, for our purposes here, break down allegedly revelatory statements into two parts: assertion and proof.
A minimum condition for an assertion to be acceptable, is for its underlying proof to hold up under scrutiny.
Therefore the question is: So what if you have what you say is "100% proof" of something?
I, as an individual, may choose to believe or disbelieve the proof.
I, as an individual, may choose to only believe this part of the proof, but not that part of it.
Now, in the case of total disbelief, or only partial belief of the proof, I reject the assertion.
This kind of thing happens every day in court rooms all over the world. Juries make decisions about their belief in the proofs of the assertions of prosecutors, in order to determine the legal guilt or not-guilt of criminal defendants.
My point here is this: The novel never came anywhere near grappling with these questions of what we might call global intellectual sociology or global theological sociology.
What I'm really saying is...
What I'm really saying is that the subject matter of this novel is not, in and of itself, exciting enough for fiction.
And, for the fiction to work, at a minimum, an interesting way had to be found to fictionalize, or rather dramatize the questions of global intellectual or global theological sociology I've been talking about.
And furthermore, as I keep saying: This "conspiracy-uncovering" book did not have its "mechanics of revelation" worked out.
What kind of book should this have been given its subject matter?
As I said, it should have been about the Catholic Church's attempt to slay Sophie Neveu, the last biological descendant of Jesus, with the irony being periodically noted that: The god had to be killed in order to give us a religion; and the "god" has to be killed "again" in order to preserve that religion.
What I mean by this awkward construction is reincarnation. I understand that some early Christians accepted the doctrine of reincarnation. I understand that this is a major feature of many Eastern religions today.
There are those whose evaluation of the "proof," might simply lead them to the conclusion that Jesus "returned" through reincarnation in the form of Sophie Neveu.
You know what? Let's not even go down that rabbit hole!
Anyway, in order for my proposed premise to work, we have to do some world building.
What do I mean by this?
Question: Why would the Church try to kill Sophie Neveu (the last biological descendant of Jesus)?
Answer: Because they feel they need to.
Question: Why do they feel they need to?
Answer: Because letting her live would lead to her genetic origins coming out. It would lead to the revelation that she is the biological descendant of Jesus, a supposedly divine Son of God, thereby possibly invalidating the entire Christian faith, let alone Catholicism.
Question: But how --- precisely HOW --- would her genetic origins come out? "Out" where and to whom?
Obviously, we have to create a "world" in which the "revelation" about the true nature of Jesus would be impactful.
- This would have to be a world in which 3D printing was universally available at an affordable price, like cell phones.
- That same apparatus would need to allow ordinary citizens to routinely do genetic comparison testing.
- People would need to be able to 3D print up their very own copy of the Shroud of Turin, or whatever, that is known have the "DNA of Jesus" on it.
- Then, there would have to be some adventure Sophie and her champions went on in order to place her palm on a sacred "Genome Tower," or something like that, which would then automatically transmit her genetic profile to pcs, laptops, smart phones, Gameboys, tablets, etc., all over the world.
- Such a "world" would have to have a law that said that the killing of the genetic descendant of a founder of a major religion is akin to a crime against humanity, and subject the offender to the harshest level of federal punishment.
These are just some of the necessary conditions, that I can think of, which would make the attempts of the Catholic Church to kill Sophie Neveu (the last biological descendant of Jesus) meaningful.
A good idea for the last scene of the proposed novel
The Church fails to kill Sophie Neveu.
Members of the Catholic Church's Vatican authority are brought to trial at the Hague.
They are found guilty of Crimes Against Humanity and sentenced to twenty years hard labor, or something like that.
Then an old Catholic official, let out of prison after fifteen years (11 for good behavior), wanders around aimlessly, seeing and understanding that the so-called "catastrophic revelation" had absolutely no impact whatsoever on the global status quo, and that their efforts to assassinate Sophie Neveu were entirely for naught.
He wonders: "What does it all mean? Does anything mean... anything? Blah, blah, blah.
Then he says to himself something like: "We might as well go back to worshipping rocks, or trees, or, or... the sun...."
He then climbs up onto the roof of a house, lies flat on his back, and stares into the sun until he goes blind.
Well, thank you for reading
Addendum added 10/03/2019 10:20 am
Something I forgot to mention for those of you who saw the movie but did not read the book.
You may recall the moment when our hero, Dr. Robert Langdon, symbologist, met up with his dear friend and colleague, Sir Leigh Teabing --- in other words, Tom Hanks and Ian McKellen, respectively.
You may recall that when they got together and started going over the material about Da Vinci, his work, and what it all means, blah, blah, blah... that Hanks and McKellen got into a little bit of academic jousting over certain points.
It was almost if the two of them had been engaged in some kind of spirited scholarly debate, or interpretive exchange, or some such.
I say that because there is none of that in the novel. Not one scintilla!
In fact, quite the opposite was the case.
When Robert Langdon, Sir Leigh Teabing, and Sophie Neveu were together, the only person seemingly offering any critical resistance, in any tiny way, was Ms. Neveu.
Teabing would say something, seemingly off the wall, inspiring doubt, skepticism in Sophie Neveu.
Langdon would then turn to Ms. Neveu with some variation of:
Actually, Sophie, there is quite substantial scholarship in support of that.
The research has come a long way in bearing that out, Sophie, in recent years.
You would think that, Sophie, in fact most people do.... But ACTUALLY....
And so on and BORING so forth.
Etcetera, etcetera, blah, blah, blah...
Now, that the filmmakers felt the need to manufacture tension, where none existed in the original source material itself, is quite telling, even damning.
Again, I am not criticizing Mr. Brown as a writer. I think the topic he worked with was going to be an uphill battle, whoever handled it --- AS A WORK OF FICTION!
Maybe this should have been a nonfiction, scholarly work, discussing different, alternative scholarly interpretations about who Jesus was and how he passed his existence.
Now were done!