Angels, demons and silliness

Is Angels & Demons anti-Catholic? Hey, wait! It’s just a movie.

Tom Hanks and Co. take on the Illuminati. Eh, whatever, it’s only a movie.

Tom Hanks and Co. take on the Illuminati. Eh, whatever, it’s only a movie.

A big-budget action film, Angels & Demons, directed by Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks, and based on a best seller by Dan Brown, raises the same general question as its predecessor, The Da Vinci Code: Is this film anti-Catholic?

Howard told any reporter who’d listen he had difficulty with Vatican officials about filming on location there. How surprising. A religious institution which holds in its keeping one of the greatest collections of art and architecture in the world is careful about the uses to which those artifacts were put. And it’s interesting that Howard thinks the people in Rome—cassocked or not—should grant a bunch of Hollywood filmmakers access to priceless works and sites of great historical and cultural significance without asking a few questions. Does he think it’s easy to take care of stuff that’s, well, priceless?

And the self-proclaimed voice of the Church—in this case, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League—is happy to go on record with criticism of the “mixing of fact and fiction” in Angels & Demons. Donohue wrote a column for the New York Daily News in which he accused Howard and Hanks of “smearing the Catholic Church with fabulously bogus tales.”

Uh, this is an action movie. In some of them, people stop bullets with their hands or teeth; in others, people fly and shoot spider webs out their wrists.

Angels & Demons isn’t a sequel to The Da Vinci Code; it’s just another action-thriller with the same main character, Robert Langdon, a “symbologist” from Harvard University. First clue that it’s fiction ought to be that “symbologist” doesn’t describe a real discipline. Anthropologists, architects, sociologists, literary scholars and theorists, historians, art historians, and religious-studies professors all include symbols in their studies, but “symbology”? Uh, no courses or majors in that. Langdon’s interdisciplinary skills cover all of the above-mentioned fields, so think of him as the university’s superhero, with elbow patches instead of a cape.

In Angels & Demons, our “symbologist” is called in by some scientists at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research, home of the world’s largest particle physics lab) to investigate a murder and the theft of some antimatter. No, you didn’t wander into Star Trek by accident. This movie involves Langdon’s quest to stop the explosion of said stolen antimatter in Vatican City, which would also destroy all that priceless art and cultural history.

An evil organization, the Illuminati (familiar to fans of action movies since Angelina Jolie went after them in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), is behind it. According to the movie’s story, they’ve been feuding with the Church since the 17th century (which would be a hundred years or so before the Illuminati were formed).

Eh, whatever. It’s a movie. If we got our history from movies, we’d think that William Wallace (Mel Gibson’s Braveheart) was the biological father of Edward III, when he died seven years before the future king was born.

And if we got our science from movies, we’d think CERN was producing and storing antimatter willy-nilly, and it easily could be used for energy and bombs. Uh, that’s so far from the truth that CERN has a Web page devoted to explaining the difference between the made-up science in an action movie and the real science they do every day.

If we got our theology from movies, we’d think that Jesus had blue eyes (Max von Sydow in The Greatest Story Ever Told) and a wife (both The Da Vinci Code and The Last Temptation of Christ). Oh, and he sang a curious mixture of pop-rock (Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar) and killed vampires (Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter).

But really, how many people get their history, science and religion from action movies?

And may the Force be with you.