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The Da Vinci Debate

Although the cinema usually provides moviegoers with much-needed relief from the real world, some films feature material so incendiary that they challenge conventions, causing controversy in the process. Like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ before it, Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code, which opened worldwide on May 19, has incited a massive uproar of international criticism.

Based on Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, the film has been consistently decried by religious organizations due to a plot twist in which the film’s lead characters make a startling discovery about Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.

All over the world, churches have voiced outrage over the film and initiated various attempts to shield the public from its allegedly blasphemous content. According to, some organizations, such as the Christian Council of Korea, called for a boycott of the book and movie. Meanwhile others, such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand, have demanded that the film’s conclusion be removed and that disclaimers before and after the film that assert that The Da Vinci Code is purely a work of fiction.

“All religions merit respect, so why don’t they show respect in this case instead of attacking all that we hold sacred?” said Athanasios Papgeoriou, president of a Greek theologian group, on “I’ve read the book. It’s despicable.”

But is the film really worth all this commotion, or are these religious communities taking The Da Vinci Code far too seriously?

Danny L. Jorgensen, a professor in USF’s religious studies department, chooses to remain neutral on the issue.

“I approach religion sociologically, and it is not for me to judge whether or not controversy is merited,” he said. “The controversy, moreover, is predictable sociologically since the book and the film advance a variety of ideas that were excluded (usually labeled heresy) from the more central forms of orthodox Christianity. Hence, to give them credence, even in fictional form, is to raise anew once-contested matters that organized forms of Western Christianity thought they had resolved definitively.”

Although the story does deter from traditional Christian beliefs, the film does not particularly aim to perpetuate the revelations its characters unearth. Furthermore, the film, starring major box office draw Tom Hanks, is designed to be a summer thrill ride, not a documentary. The “secrets” it unveils are presented as a part of a tale full of intrigue and suspense – a tale not to be accepted as truth.

“It’s not so much about convincing audiences as much as making you believe the characters are convinced (that the film’s claims are true), because it creates this great mystery; it generates a really thought-provoking thriller,” said Academy Award-winning director Howard (A Beautiful Mind), in an interview on “You want to create an environment where people can suspend their disbelief and lose themselves in the thriller aspects.”

In the midst of the media blitz and the hostile response the film is receiving from spiritual leaders, Hanks also made a public statement rebuffing the stir the film has caused.

“We always knew there would be a segment of society that would not want this movie to be shown, but the story we tell is loaded with all sorts of hooey and fun, kind of scavenger hunt-type nonsense,” Hanks told Britain’s The Evening Standard. “If you are going to take any sort of movie at face value, particularly a huge-budget motion picture like this, you’d be making a very big mistake.”

Though many religious groups are against the film, it’s ultimately each person’s decision whether to see it or not.

“As a Christian, I would simply say, ‘It’s fiction. Fellow believers, get past the media craze,'” said Shelley Stewart, an information technology major.

Even the Catholic Church, well known for condemning offensive films, has taken a more relaxed approach to The Da Vinci Code. According to The Evening Standard, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, has deemed it “a harmless thriller” and proclaimed that the public “should realize it is fiction.”

Perhaps this even-tempered response would have been more effective than the vehement vilification most groups have resorted to. Ironically, the many objections have only fueled public interest in the film, driving even more people to theaters.

Ideally, those people who do see The Da Vinci Code will be able to dismiss the recent media attention the film has garnered and come to their own conclusions regarding the offensiveness of the story’s message and how it relates to their personal spirituality.