Angels and Demons

  (02 June 09)

Angels and Demons: The Good, the Bad, and the Very Very Ugly


Religion writer Alison Cotes wonders about the theology of the latest Dan Brown film

(Reviewed May 2009)

Readers will be glad to hear that no nuns were injured in the making of this film.

Plenty of Swiss Guards, a priceless manuscript by Galileo, a cardinal or three, and even a Pope, but no nuns, who appear only in crowd scenes.

Indeed, there's a notable absence of women of any kind in Angels and Demons which, considering it's set in the ultimate Men's Club, Vatican City, is probably not a surprise. Sex doesn't raise its ugly head at all, not even in the form of Tom Hanks, who is completely but puzzlingly immune to the charms of gorgeous Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer doing a passable imitation of a particle physicist.

No sex, then, which means that the Vatican actually liked this film, calling it "harmless entertainment which hardly affects the genius and mystery of Christianity". (They're spot on with that remark.) They liked it a lot better than they did the previous film of The Da Vinci Code, which had lots of sex in it, not only in the real-time of the film, but in the suggestion that Jesus might have had a sexual relationship with (shock/horror!) Mary Magdalene. As if that old chestnut hadn't been around for a couple of millennia.

But by-passing the whole idea of sex and the Vatican very quickly, because it doesn't bear thinking about, let's move on to the rather silly plot. It begins with the death of the old progressive pope, who is conveniently named Celestine (astute viewers might get the reference to the Celestine Prophecies, a New Age guidebook that suggests that we live not in a material universe, but in a universe of dynamic energy, where "everything extant is a field of sacred energy that we can sense and intuit." Whatever.)

Just as the pope dies, a group of (good/bad? your guess is as good as mine) physicists have managed to create a large amount of anti-matter which then falls into the hands of evil villains who are going to use it to blow up the Vatican, which may or may not be a good thing. Tom Hanks, famous symbologist from Harvard (not check the website impiousdigest.comlindex2 if you don't believe me) has been summoned to find this anti-matter before its time-bomb goes off at midnight.

As symbology is the study of semiology, iconography and symbolic systems, does this give us permission to read this anti-matter as the anti-Christ which is, in eschatological terms, about to bring about the end of civilisation as we know it? Certainly when the Big Bang does come, the devout but misguided Carmelango (the Pope's chamberlain do try to keep up) Ewan McGregor, who takes the precious phial up into the stratosphere in the Vatican helicopter where it can do no harm, floats down to earth in a parachute, so is this the Second Coming?

It's hard to believe that a plot can be this silly, and its theology so wildly wrong, but be not afeared, because this is a possible apocalypse, after all, and Ewan McGregor could also be the anti-Christ. This is where the devout reader has to scurry to the Book of Revelation, or perhaps the prophecies of the Millenarianists, to make any sense of the idea.

Or perhaps they'd be better to leave well alone, and enjoy the car chases (Italian drivers in this film are as bad as they always were, and are, and ever shall be, world without end amen) and the smoky views of the interior of churches in Rome, and the impressive reconstruction of St Peter's Basilica (because, after The Da Vinci Code, the Vatican authorities wouldn't let director Ron Howard film inside the real building, and I can see why), and especially the very nasty death-by-misadventure of the three, almost four, cardinals. Now I'm as anti-clerical as the next person, but even I find it hard to believe that anyone in the church hierarchy deserves to have his face eaten away by rats (shades of 1984, and am I being fanciful when I am reminded of the surname of the present pope?) or be burned from the feet up (Cranmer and Ridley, where are you now that we really need you?), especially if it's going to damage the Church of Santa Maria dells Vittoria, which houses that rather disturbing statue by Bernini (another name that pops up in the film, as a member of the Illuminati, but don't you bother your pretty little heads about them) of St Teresa in Ecstasy.

No, the thing that really made me gasp in horror was the cavalier way in which Hanks and Zurer treat the priceless documents in the archives of the Vatican, she recklessly tearing a page out of one of Galileo's treatises, and he handling the books without wearing white cotton gloves. Do these people have no idea of library etiquette?

Oh, it's all too hard for the brain. I'd read the book if you want to make sense of the story no, that doesn't help either. Just enjoy the costumes on the cardinals, with acres of hand-made lace, rather than Ayelet Zurer's black leathers and Manolo Blahniks. On the other hand, whatever turns you on.



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