The Da Vinci Code: What’s That on Her Neck?

I saw The DaVinci Code last night with a friend, a lapsed Catholic, after two other friends, also lapsed Catholics, raved about it. Even a lapsed Jew like me knows that this movie will be poison at the confession box. It’s like the idea I discovered in college, that I didn’t have to marry a Jew—an idea that did a number on my natal faith.

Again, I’d quarrel with anyone who says this film is antireligious. It’s pro-religious. Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou (What’s that on her neck?) both seek spiritual knowledge. They want to know who and where the Holy Grail is, and they find out in the transcendent ending. Hanks is a lapsed Catholic but he believes in God. So does Audrey Tautou. It’s just that their God is the one that Joan Osborne sang about in the anti-Catholic hit of 8 years back or so: “What if God was one of us?” God is in all of us, we just have to figure out where he/she/it is. The movie’s over when Hanks understands that his belief is in This-thing-that-is-larger-than-him-but-also-in-him that he prayed to when he was trying to survive as a little boy in the well, and when Audrey Tautou accepts the blasphemous idea that she’s a descendant of Jesus.

All this happens in one night, their quest for spiritual enlightenment—which is to say, Tom Hanks wears just two outfits. Their revelation is borne to them on a scroll of papyrus.

It’s interesting to compare that one-night papyrus moment with the discovery of the papyruses that helped inspire this movie, the gnostic Gospels, those early Christian writings that were left out of the New Testament but that in the last ten years have caught fire because they portray Jesus as a historical character, a great teacher but not the son of God. The first lot of papyruses was discovered in 1945, apparently buried by monks in Egypt nearly two millenia before. It took another 50 years for them to break out in the public consciousness.

Or consider the new gospel of Judas, which is exciting spiritual people everywhere with the revelation that the ultimate bad guy was a good guy. It was discovered in the 70s by Eyptian peasants looking in a cave for treasure. They found a skeleton and a limestone box, opened it up to find papyrus manuscripts. According to the latest New York Review of Books

The gospel was badly damaged in its long journey from the darkness of that burial cave near the Nile to its recent publication. One of the manuscript dealers who purchased it and then tried to resell it kept it for some years in a bank vault in Hicksville, Long Island, causing deterioration. Another dealer put the gospel in a freezer, damaging it further. By the time the renowned Swiss papyrologist Rodolphe Kasser got hold of it in 2001, it was in a heartbreaking condition…”so badly mistreated, broken up to the extreme, partially pulverized, infinitely fragile, crumbling at the least contact.”

It took 30 years and painstaking reconstruction to get that news to the world, and turn doctrine on its head. Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou dispense with the sands of Egypt and the freezer—they go right to the bank vault for their papyrus—and do it all in one night. Which underlines the point. When a person’s in spiritual crisis, it doesn’t matter if what they seek is centuries old and has moldered in a cave, they need the news in the middle of the night. That’s this movie’s message. We need an awakening, and now, from the clammy patriarchal falsehoods we grew up with.

The Da Vinci Code: What’s That on Her Neck?