Hanks for the memories

About a year and a half ago, a friend of mine went on vacation with her husband and family. They stayed at a beachfront hotel, where they spent several pleasant afternoons strolling along the shore, ocean kayaking and enjoying beachfront dining.

One morning, my friend asked her husband to walk down to a seaside cafe for some banana pancakes. He agreed – but asked if she could wait until he finished the last two chapters of the book he was reading, The Da Vinci Code. Like in any good thriller, the final chapters were packed with pulse-pounding, slightly ludicrous action, and he was loath to interrupt the momentum, even for hot banana pancakes.

My friend, who was five months pregnant, sat back down to wait. When her husband finished the book about twenty minutes later, they began gathering their things to walk to the beach. That’s when they heard the first screams. They looked out toward the ocean and saw an immense wall of water sweeping in, swallowing everything in its path. Safe on the third floor of their hotel in Krabi, Thailand, they watched in shock as the tsunami swept below them, swirling with clothes, pieces of boats, life jackets and other debris. It was only later that they realized those extra 20 minutes spent reading The Da Vinci Code probably saved their lives.

da vinci code

So, that’s my official reason for liking The Da Vinci Code. My unofficial reason is that I found the book to be a butt-kickingly fun read. I’m not normally a huge fan of thrillers, except for on those occasional airplane trips when I want some mindless entertainment. I’ll even admit to having enjoyed a few Michael Crichton books before he became a tool of Big Oil and the Bush administration, appointing himself the chief debunker of the global warming “myth.”

I know, I know, The Da Vinci Code is lowbrow entertainment. The characters are cardboard cutouts. The dialogue sounds like it was computer-generated. The plot twists are preposterous. Blah, blah, blah, whatevah. All the same, I read it with a smile on my face and a pleasantly elevated heart rate. I loved all the speculation about Jesus’ personal life, secret messages in Leonardo Da Vinci’s art and the shadowy weirdness of Opus Dei. This was a great popcorn novel, light, salty and satisfying.

Various Christian denominations are, of course, in full meltdown over the book, accusing Dan Brown of doing the devil’s work by suggesting Jesus and Mary Magdalene had children. Members of Opus Dei are up in arms, angry at the characterization of their sect as some kind of murderous underworld. And the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) is officially protesting the upcoming movie, which stayed true to the novel by depicting one of the bad guys as a hulking albino monk.

monk

This, actually, is the one criticism that seems legitimate to me. It’s too easy, and too cheap, to add an element of perceived freakishness by making the mad monk an albino – it’s like gratuitous dwarf-casting in dream sequences, or the addition of drunken Mexicans to Westerns. It’s just lazy story-telling to make bad guys ugly, sickly or strange while giving the good guys all white teeth, tanned skin and perfect hair.

Fortunately, in the Da Vinci Code movie, the hero is kind of freakish-looking too. Tom Hanks has, we may observe without fear of rebuttal, looked better. He’s kind of pudgy and pasty here, with a haircut that can only be described as the love child of Prince Valiant and Barry Manilow.

hanks do

I take an odd comfort in that. I’m happy to root for the shlubby professor to outwit the baddies, and even to win the waiflike Audrey Tautou as his girl, as unlikely as that would be in real life. I can’t wait to watch all the shenanigans in the Louvre and the alleyways of Paris, and hear the faux-intellectual musings on symbolism, art and the church. It may be silly. It may be pretentious. But competing with the top three US films — Mission Impossible III, Poseidon and RV — it will seem like a masterpiece of intellectual heft. Bring on the popcorn.

4 responses to “Hanks for the memories”

  1. Dave says:

    I thought the book was pretty awful, but all the hype for the movie is kind of getting me excited to see it.

    One thing, though: You don’t mind that Dan Brown makes all sorts of false and nasty claims about a church and a “lay order” (or whatever Opus Dei is), but you don’t like having an albino bad guy? That picture of whats-his-name as a murderous albino monk is scary, no? And I’ve seen many non-scary albinos. What’s the big deal?

    Yes, I know the book’s claims are supposedly just the claims of fiction, but Dan Brown and a lot of readers seem to think or otherwise. That’s what bugs me most about the whole thing. That and the bad writing.

  2. Lisa Parrish says:

    Opus Dei and the Catholic Church are rich, powerful entities; I don’t mind a little fictive romp at their expense. Albinos are, forgive the generalization, more like underdogs. They already have to deal with being stared at every day of their lives — why add insult to injury with this random killer monk portrayal? The whole point of making him an albino is to add a freakishness factor, which seems unfair.

    Also, for the record, Dan Brown has said publicly that he doesn’t personally believe the claims put forth in the book.

  3. Lane says:

    One of the strangest beliefs of Opus Dei is that Jesus was actually an albino MIDGET!

  4. Dave says:

    Ahem, Lane. I believe you mean “little person.”