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Archive for the ‘The Da Vinci Code’ Category

Analysis

While the recent release of The Da Vinci Code has garnered worldwide publicity and the scrutiny of Christian clergy and religious groups, the upcoming film The Omen has so far flown under the radar of this same scrutiny.

Yet like The Da Vinci Code, The Omen uses scriptural references and popular culture images to take viewers on a fictional thrill ride while also distorting the symbols and teachings of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, it uses news clips of real tragedies to gain a familiarity with the audience in order to make more credible the film’s premise that the Apocalypse and the Anti-Christ, as foretold by the Book of Revelations, may be here – today.

But in director John Moore’s vision, who is causing these horrible events: Satan and the arrival of the Anti-Christ or mankind itself?

The film is an updated version of the 1976 horror classic of the same name that starred Gregory Peck and Lee Remick and was directed by Richard Donner. The 2006 film stars Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles in the main roles and was directed by John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix). The current remake uses most of the original screenplay written by David Seltzer (TV’s Revelations).

As the story begins, we meet a young diplomat (Schreiber) whose wife (Stiles) is in the hospital delivering their first-born son. However, the father learns from the hospital’s chaplain that his son died in childbirth. In order to spare the mother from the awful truth, after previous unsuccessful pregnancies, perhaps the father will adopt another boy born at the same time, but whose mother died in childbirth.

OmenYears later, as their son Damien grows up in the privileged home of the U.S. Ambassador to England, strange and horrible events start happening. A nanny commits suicide in front of birthday party guests, zoo animals become enraged at the site of Damien, and a mysterious Mrs. Baylock arrives to care for the boy. (In a casting coup, the director enlists Mia Farrow as the new nanny. Her participation is a direct nod to her starring role in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, the first famous “son of Satan” film).

Meanwhile, the ambassador is visited by a priest who implores him to accept Christ and research the true origins of his son. Aided by a photographer whose photographs foretell horrific events, the ambassador follows the growing warning in his heart and delves deeper into his adopted son’s past.

Convinced by the strange events surrounding Damien (and the “666” birthmark on his scalp, labeled “the mark of the Beast” in Revelations), the ambassador takes steps to end the boy’s life and prevent the maturity of the supposed Anti-Christ on earth.

The majority of the film that deals with the main storyline is a fine, contemporary retelling of the original film. While The Da Vinci Code is a mystery thriller, The Omen is a shock horror film throughout. The director added new dream sequences and rich colors in order to layer psychological terrors onto the horrific events of the film.

The parents, much younger than the stars of the original, are more engaging and thus bring us deeper into their fears and questions about the true nature of their son. Mia Farrow’s nanny adds a creepy, sometimes comedic personality to the film.

To combat the difficulty the director sees in asking “the audience to believe something immediately that’s far fetched, to say the least,” he adds controversial new scenes at the film’s beginning and end to herald the possible beginning of Armageddon.

Historical film clips of the World Trade Center burning on 9/11, the fiery remains of the Challenger explosion streaking across the sky, and the destructive waters of the Tsunami in India and the Gulf Coast floods set an ominous tone for the film.

“There has never been a more salient time to remind people that evil is neither a concept nor a theory,” Moore says in the film’s publicity materials. “It has a human face and it empowers itself through human actions. The true nature of evil has never been more apparent.

“In the past four years alone,” Moore continues, “the world has been hit with devastating events – political, natural and man-made. One can’t help but notice a certain momentum.”

Indeed, the connection of these historical and cinematic events utilizes a dispensational view of Christian history that many fundamentalist Christians have adopted. This view purports that man’s relationship with God is a series of historical events that began in the Old Testament and will continue to the actualization of the Kingdom of God as portrayed in the Book of Revelations. The Left Behind series of books is written around this view.

In contrast, the Church teaches us that the foundation for the Kingdom of God was built upon the covenants that God made with all mankind. In addition, the Kingdom of God is here today, the “redemptive presence of God actualized through the power of God’s reconciling Spirit.”

The final events of this world are “grounded in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and are anticipated even now in faith, hope, charity, in the sacraments, and in the Church itself.” (Catholicism by Richard P. McBrien)

Moore ends the film with a troublesome new scene – a dramatic depiction of Pope John Paul II in bed taking his last breath, a crystal goblet of red wine falling down onto his white cassock, the final blood spilling of the film.

During interviews following a preview of the film in New York, I asked Moore why he used actors to portray the death of the pope instead of news footage. Was he trying to inflame emotions and enhance publicity for the film by making some sort of connection between the pope’s death and the Apocalypse?

“It was simply a visual demonstration of the triumph of dark over light, a moviemaking technique,” said the director. “I struggled with it. I had it in and out of the movie a couple times. (In the end) I wanted to portray a loss in the battle, not just a victory, because it makes (the film) feel all the more chilling.”

There were significant technical and scheduling aspects to completing the film, according to Moore. There were only 10 months between the first phone call from Fox Studios to Moore and the release date. One has to wonder if the film would have been made at all if not for the marketing-driven release date of 6/6/06.

Liev Schreiber said that he played the role of Robert Thorn as a lapsed Catholic who was “familiar with those passages of Scripture but maybe felt some reticence that it held some truth.” Schreiber ably carries the audience along for the ride as he portrays Thorn’s emotional journey from incredulity to possibility to acceptance.

In the end, Thorn believes so much that he draws upon his faith and recites the Lord’s Prayer in the climatic scene, dialogue that was not in the original screenplay. “It was an instinct that I had, it wasn’t scripted. But John liked it and we went with it,” said Schreiber.

“It made sense to me because what he was doing was horrible. In order to accomplish it, he had to put his faith into something. If he accepted the premise that the prophecies of Revelations were true, then he also had to accept the premise of The Lord’s Prayer and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness for what he was doing,” recounted Schreiber.

Films like this, according to Schreiber, allow us to “vent our anxieties and our fears” even though it is just a “popcorn thriller.” We are relieved, he says, when we can say at the end that “it’s only a movie.”

CF
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First published in the June 2, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.

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“Symbols are a language that helps us understand our past.” – Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code

Tell us a bedtime story Dad,” my children would say as I put them to bed, so many years ago.

“Okay,” I would answer, quickly formulating a plot, some interesting characters and a decent conflict. Sometimes I could weave in elements from The Hobbit, Star Wars, or even from my own childhood. Corky, the black Irish setter of my youth, was a favorite character.

The bedtime stories that made the biggest impact were the ones that involved familiar characters in unexpected situations. The more outrageous the tale, the better, as it fired up my children’s imaginations. They would smile and close their eyes while I spoke, drifting off to sleep while enjoying the “wild ride” of the unlikely tale.

I wish “grown ups” would treat The Da Vinci Code the same way.

If you haven’t read the book, Dan Brown’s 2003 best-selling novel describes a murder investigation that turns into a quest to uncover a secret that could “change the course of mankind forever.”

DaVinciA series of clues supposedly evident in famous Da Vinci paintings “The Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper,” plus other clues found in architectural elements of historical buildings like Westminster Abbey and The Louvre, combine to point to the final resting place of The Holy Grail.

But unlike other depictions of the Holy Grail (most notably Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and even Monty Python and the Holy Grail), this grail is allegorical. In Brown’s novel, the “cup of Christ” is actually Mary Magdalene, whose fictional relationship with Jesus produced a line of descendants that still exists to this day.

Now if you start from the point of view that Brown wrote an engaging novel that blends fictional ideas with historical characters, artifacts and contemporary institutions, you’ll probably like the movie. The trailers for the film show an exciting hunt for mysterious clues that will surely have me on the edge of my seat and my mind racing through the fantastic possibilities.

But if you start from the point of view that Brown has a deep hatred for the Catholic Church and a hidden agenda to destroy the Christian faith and corrupt the uneducated with half-truths and fanciful lies, then you’ll also like the film and probably find what you are looking for.

What’s the correct point of view? According to the author, a self-proclaimed Christian, the controversy surrounding the book and film is beneficial and should inspire “discussion and debate” that will ultimately lead to a more solidly defended faith.

I agree. Instead of calling for boycotts, we should use the film as an opportunity to learn more and teach others about the true meanings behind the symbols of our Church.

When I moved here after spending 14 of 16 years in Catholic schools in predominantly Catholic communities, I felt some pressure among Nashville coworkers and friends to explain my faith.

Religious statues, devotions to Mary and the Saints, and the teaching authority of the Pope and his bishops were all discussed with my Protestant brethren. Did they refuse to try to understand my point of view? I’m not sure. But most of them stayed put on their side, speaking from their fundamental reliance upon the Bible and their own personal convictions that they have been saved by the blood of Christ. Nothing else mattered.

True, the redemptive, saving grace of Christ’s death and resurrection binds all of us Christians into one community, one Body of Christ. It is the cornerstone of our faith and is told through the God-inspired writings of the Bible.

“So why do you worship statues and pray to the saints instead of to Jesus?” I would tell them that we don’t worship statues. The church has a long history of using art to teach and inspire our prayers to God.

Before the 1450s when Johann Gutenberg invented book printing, most ordinary men and women had no formal education. They learned about God at church, listening to the priests tell the stories behind the statues, the intricate stained glass windows, and other man-made art in their churches. Even the churches were built like crosses to remind the faithful of Christ’s sacrifice.

So these symbols, I explained, are visual reminders of God’s glory, the life of Jesus on this earth, and the Christ-like lives of ordinary people whom we remember as the saints. What you see is what you get. There are no hidden meanings or secret codes to discover. All roads lead to the Jesus we know in the Bible.

But leave it to a savvy author like Dan Brown to take these same images and weave a fanciful tale to ignite our imaginations and get us talking. While many people are working hard to refute its storyline, millions more are discussing The Da Vinci Code and thus talking about Jesus and their faith.

Now that’s a “wild ride” worth taking.

CF
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First published in the May 19, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.

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