I've been talking about my oddball status as a Franco American and how it both has and hasn't informed my life as a writer. I'm going to conclude those thoughts on a perhaps unlikely note. Today I'd like to talk about The Da Vinci Code.
The Dan Brown book was released in 2003 and quickly became one of the biggest publishing blockbusters of the century. I was working at a bookstore when the third book, The Lost Symbol, was released, so I have an idea what it was like to experience the frenzy over Brown's work (comparable to Harry Potter).
But this isn't about the book. Many commentators have already noted that Brown weaves a better story than writes one. I'm referring instead to Ron Howard's 2006 adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, famously starring Tom Hanks and a mullet, but also featuring Ian McKellen and Audrey Tautou (known best for the best-known French film of the millennium so far, Amelie).
As a self-professed Roman Catholic (see the confession in the last post), I am supposed to be hardwired against the controversial claims of this stuff. If I were judging the story only on the book, I probably wouldn't take it seriously much less care one way or the other, but it's the film that does the religious themes justice, notably in the alternate ending in which Hanks breaks through his own skepticism, in effect finally doing what Robert Langdom's inspiration Indiana Jones only imitated with good guy piety.
My favorite parts of the film involve McKellen, who made his name with Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films (and soon to reprise the role of Gandalf, much to this fan's delight), as the genius who figures everything out but how to avoid becoming the villain. He's the one who shows Hanks the presentation revealing the crucial Last Supper image of the Holy Grail, which is not a cup (there's none on the table!) but rather Mary Magdalene, mistaken all these centuries for the apostle John.
Anyway, I'm not talking religion. What I really enjoy about The Da Vinci Code is how my elusive French heritage turns out to be one of the most popular yet controversial destinations of the modern era. The title of this post, "Sangreal," is French for Holy Grail, also the subject of Indy's Last Crusade ("He chose poorly."), and is one of the many clues Hanks must unravel (at its heart Da Vinci Code is just an elaborate mystery). In the aftermath of 9/11, international relations were stretched when America chose to declare its War on Terror and picked out Iraq as its second target. The French were the leading opposition to this decision, and as you may or may not recall, some people started eating "freedom fries" and such.
The French have a complicated relationship with America. It's likely the United States wouldn't exist today without its French allies during the Revolution. Yet in modern times roles began to reverse, not the least when the British won Roosevelt's support during WWII. The French today are known for the Eiffel Tower and their passionate lovers (and yes, their wine).
Sure, "Les Miserables" remains one of the few titles left untranslated in world literature (and soon to be another Hollywood blockbuster release), but the hidden heart of The Da Vinci Code represents what I've come to understand about myself. I don't know how my family got a last name that seems to suggest a writer of some kind in its past. Somehow Jesus Christ, who strictly for the record died a violent death and inspired one of the world's largest religions, ended up with an heir in France, at least according to Dan Brown and others who've told that story through the years.
It's the idea of strange associations that you don't expect but somehow feel right that I'm talking about. I know of no other writers in my family today. It's a struggle to be the first of anything, to begin something rather than continue it. Where Howard's interpretation emphasizes the possibilities of the future inherent in The Da Vinci Code, I find myself paying respect to something far greater than myself, too, a tradition that I stumbled into but found would not let me go, no matter the obstacles that have ended up in my way. Some people will look at The Da Vinci Code and see only the sensation of it. I ended up seeing something past that, an affirmation, exactly what Hanks attempts to tell the viewer in the end. I see my efforts today as an affirmation of my younger self, who had no idea where his ideas would lead him.
Like Howard's film, the direction forward for me is filled with the unknown, but I'm interested to see where it goes. I have no idea what else a writer should do with their work.