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A Few Symbol Rules 

Before getting started directly on a column about Ron Howard's hotly anticipated The Da Vinci Code, I should establish a couple of important things. First, I am the only person in the English-speaking world who has not read Dan Brown's blockbuster novel which begot this movie. Second, I am not a Roman Catholic, so I perhaps haven't worried as much as others might about the story's treatment of organizations affiliated with the Roman Church. All that said, I found The Da Vinci Code ludicrously entertaining while I remained in the theater and instantly forgettable afterwards.

The Da Vinci Code is a murder mystery all wrapped up inside some deliberately provocative theological speculation, a withering attack on the secretive Catholic organization called Opus Dei (which, were it not revealed in this film, I, a good Baptist boy and fan of Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County, might have presumed the whole name of a cartoon penguin), and some art-history exegesis that reminds me of those music fans from the 1960s who ruined their Beatles' albums by playing them backwards in search of proof that Paul McCartney was dead and replaced by an impostor named Billy Shears. I hesitate to wonder openly if, like Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Da Vinci Code might best be enjoyed under the influence of an illegal smoking substance.

The ever so complicated plot goes like this: The curator (Jean-Pierre Marielle) at the Louvre in Paris is murdered by a self-flagellant albino monk (Paul Bettany). Before the curator expires, however, he manages to strip himself naked (we never understand this dying nudist impulse) and write clues to his murder in his own blood all over his body. It might have been simpler just to write, "I was killed by Opus Dei because I know their secret," but then the movie would have been a lot shorter. Instead, his death-marble-floor accusation is written in hieroglyphs which provoke French detective Fache (Jean Reno) to call in Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), who just happens to be in town and in need of some intriguing symbols to decipher. Before Langdon can say "anagram," however, police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) shows up to warn the American that the Fache-ist police detective is just about to arrest him for reasons we ultimately discover but never actually believe. We don't learn how Sophie knows what Fache is up to, but Langdon quickly decides to trust her since he realizes that Sophie Neveu is an anagram for Venus Poshiee, which at the very least sounds like someone James Bond could get lucky with. Sadly, there's not a lot of getting lucky in this movie, though a romantic spark between our protagonists might have provided a dash of energy the flick lacks.

Langdon and Sophie solve the mystery of the curator's death by studying Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings for the hidden code of the story's title. "The Mona Lisa" is so striking because half her face is that of a man. The disciple sitting to the right of Jesus in "The Last Supper" is not half a man, but a whole woman, Mary Magdelene to be precise. The gap between them is a V, and that's an ancient symbol for femininity and represents the Holy Grail, which I know you thought was a chalice, but is actually a vagina, and I am like totally not kidding. And when you cap a V with a ^, which is the ancient symbol for masculinity, you get a diamond. And that's why so many people are almost religious about baseball.

Much of this symbolism (though not the part about baseball, which is my own modest contribution) is explained to Langdon and Sophie by another symbologist named Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen). Sophie manages to figure out that "Sir Leigh Teabing" is an anagram for "Beating Girlies," but neither she nor Langdon figures out that the picture needs a third symbols expert because the two of them are so utterly dullsville.

I won't give away how it all ends up, other than to warn, plotologist that I am, that I figured out the last big twist about an hour early. That wasn't fun, but it was fun listening to readings from a bunch of gospels that were excluded from the official biblical cannon, including one by Mary Magdelene who says, that she really really likes Jesus, but not in that way. She only likes him as a friend, unless, of course, Jesus likes her in that way, which is a different story, because, well, she is impressed by his thinking about the first being last. And to be honest, she'd always fantasized about him as her Lord and Master, but if they got married and all, she wondered if he'd mind her calling herself Mary Christ, which, she thought, didn't sound so much like someone cursing.

click to enlarge When a curator at the Louvre turns up dead, Sophie Neveu - (Audrey Tautou) and Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) try to - crack The Da Vinci Code.
  • When a curator at the Louvre turns up dead, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) and Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) try to crack The Da Vinci Code.


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