The major idea in Dan Brown's book, "The Da Vinci Code," is that the Christian church, especially the Catholic branch, has suppressed women, the true history of Mary Magdalene and the concept of the sacred feminine, with deceit and murder.

Yet I am a Christian and a feminist. This actually isn't that hard, because even in churches that traditionally don't allow female preachers, women's voices are heard. They lead discussion groups, speak in Bible study and church and sing. I have also seen a Catholic woman give a sermon.

These days, it's the movie industry that suppresses women, and the movie, "The Da Vinci Code," is a prime example.

In the book, Sophie Neveu is a brilliant cryptologist with the French police and key in unraveling the many mysteries leading to the Holy Grail. In the movie, Neveu (played by Audrey Tautou) is still a policewoman, and her butt-kicking abilities are played up. No thriller is complete without a driving-backward-on-the-sidewalk car chase. But most of her deductions are instead attributed to the male lead, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks.) Her grandmother, who in the book is a woman of great wisdom, has her insights taken away as well.

After becoming the suspects in a string of murders, Hanks and Tautou flee through the streets of Paris and eventually to the country home of Sir Leigh Teabing (Sir Ian McKellen), with hot evidence on the whereabouts of the Grail. McKellen proclaims that the Grail is actually the remains of Magdalene and ancient documents showing Jesus to have been married to her and human, not divine, which might destroy Christianity itself. Their quest, both to find the Grail and to keep the church from finding and destroying it, leads the three adventurers to England and a surprising ending.

Through it all, Tautou is emotionless, hard as rock. That's not unusual for Hollywood, where if a female character is strong, she is emotionless. It's rare to see the traits of loving and nurturing as strength in Hollywood. Yet they are at the core of the concept of the sacred feminine, the nature- or Goddess-worshipping religions the Catholic Church is trying to suppress in "The Da Vinci Code."

Hanks isn't much better. He tries to be funny, but his deadpanning falls flat and feels fake. It's surprising to see Tom Hanks act so poorly.

There is little emotion in this movie except for the sinister and suspicious. French policeman Jean Reno is little more than a thug, and Paul Bettany is an albino church hit man, the one actually responsible for the murders. He is repulsive for his fanaticism, frightening for his determination, yet pitiable for his blind loyalty to the church that took him in when all others had cast him out.

McKellen is the most fun character. His chipper wit and manic glee for the Grail quest actually fit him. Unfortunately, he has a tragic flaw - the desire to know more than anyone else so he can teach and enlighten the world - and it becomes his downfall.

He rages about Christianity's sins; the killing of those accused to be witches and the oppression of the poor, powerless, those with different-colored skin and women. The church has suppressed both passion and knowledge, he claims, since it has sought to eliminate the idea that sex is a path to God. He argues that the higher-ups of the church could not stand any other route to God besides Christ.

So is Hollywood helping the church keep sex from being considered sacred? I can think of a host of movie characters who jump into bed with anyone of the opposite sex. There is no sense of connection or emotional depth, little in the way of honor and certainly no appreciation of sex as sacred. It's simply about having a good time.

As for suppressing knowledge, many local faith leaders are welcoming the chance "The Da Vinci Code" gives them to start a dialogue. Some encourage people to question their faith in the hope it will strengthen it.

The movie takes the opportunity to fix many of the errors discovered in the book. The number of women killed in the witch trials was revised, and the fact that the secret society supposedly hiding the Holy Grail has been proven to be a hoax was answered with, "That's what they want you to believe."

It's fun to watch, as a giant treasure hunt/sinister thriller, if you aren't enraged by it (the Southern Baptist behind me was upset about the assertion that Christianity is a giant hoax). The movie doesn't lag, which is impressive given how much explanation is required, until the end, when Hanks and Tautou attempt to interact with each other without death on their tail. Since they formed no emotional bond at all, this is stilted and fake.

But finally, gradually, Tautou relaxes into something vaguely human. Maybe if this character continued to develop, she would find her own sense of the sacred feminine and power in nurturing. And maybe she would find, as I have, that it can coexist with Christianity.

At least, unlike in so many movies, the female lead didn't have to take off her clothes.


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