DaVinci Code: Take 2

Life and death intervened to keep me from blogging about finishing The DaVinci Code before now. But here's a bit:

In the end, I really enjoyed the novel. It was escapist when I needed some escape; it challenged Christian religio-cultural supremacy when I needed to bask in such challenge. I stand by my critiques of the novel’s limitations, but once I accepted that this was an action-adventure thriller with some juicy if superficial political critique of the Church (many aspects lifted whole from other texts) rather than Good Literature (a.k.a. beautifully written prose with richly crafted characters, etc.), then I just dove in and enjoyed it for what it was. The reading dovetailed nicely with my readings of Richard Dawkins, which was another factor in its timely favor for me. Dawkins deserves and will get his own blog entry here one of these days. I share many of his perspectives but not all. He is sexist and throws babies out with bathwater too often, but he is also such a reassuring voice admist the excess of religious rhetoric dominating our culture and much of the world today. But I think I may have to blog about Talledega Nights and Nacho Libre next.

Talledega Nights: Over and Over

I have now seen the film Talledega Nights FOUR times. What does this say about me, about the film, and about the state of the union? Instead of answering those questions, here is an overview of my viewing experiences.

Before the first time: Saw the previews and actually laughed. Saw a making-of and enjoyed knowing the actors had done some behind-the-scenes roleplay at Nascar tracks. Thought the critique of redneck racing fans might do my Yankee heart good.

First time: Saw it with my son at the multiplex. It was the only film out that I thought he and I both might be able to stand. We both laughed aloud, though we found the writing of the kid characters excessive and unfunny.

Second time: Played for $2 on the campus of MTSU so dragged my hubby and my son to it again to see if Chad would enjoy it. He did. Again, we laughed aloud, and I paid particular attention to Sasha Baron Cohen’s character, his accent and facial expressions, especially. Chad and I particularly grooved on the long kiss at the end. And we both think the actress playing the wife is superb in the role.

Third time: Saw it without the sound on the airplane going to California (first trip) in early November. Enjoyed paying half-attention to the now-familiar funny bits and ignoring the rest—like moments of lousy editing (like the whole Susan character, which is fabulous in the bar scene but obviously cut out to make little sense in the rest of the film) and jokes that didn’t quite work (again, the kids and their change of character).

Fourth time: Watched it in the hotel with my brother when on the second California trip after my father died, thinking it would be good escape for me and Reid. Watching it with him made me see how stale some of the jokes were and how fluffy the critique (so interspersed as it is with cheering on the redneck). The knife in the leg scene is still hysterical, but even better in the outtakes. We also saw Anchorman when I was in CA the first time, and I opined then that Talledega Nights is better, more cohesive, more sustained critique…but after seeing it the fourth time I’m less sure. I don’t think Anchorman truly worked; it changed direction in the film several times, particularly re the purpose of the gender battle, but it had some great improv moments. When we finished with Nacho Libre and I thought it wasn’t much worse than either film (though somehow Will Ferrell is growing on me and Jack Black isn’t), well, Reid and I both decided that how funny a film is has much to do with mental state and energy. And when we watched the films, we had little energy and a seriously depressed mental state. Less so when we saw Borat on its opening weekend when things seemed stable with my dad and my brother and I were seeing a film in the theater for the first time in many, many a year. (Not that Borat, too, didn’t have its limitations, but it’s politics were much more upfront—even if rednecks can ignore them and just laugh at the foreigner jokes.)


The Da Vinci Code: Why Didn't Someone Tell Me...

...this is pulp crap?

I mean I know I should have been paying attention to what people were saying beyond the religious nuttiness, but I didn't. I just did not know that it is chock full of superficiality, predictability, sexism, and mediocre writing skills. Now, I confess entirely that I'm only on page 100, but I just had to pause and put down my thoughts (at least in part because I want something over my pirate pic below because someone told me it makes me look like I'm pumped full of testosterone with my dominant jaw and obvious pumped body! I'd love to look macho when I'm TRYING but I thought I looked hot and more femme than butch in that pic!). Anyhow, back to The Da Vinci Code...

To exemplify my critique, let's begin with Silas's backstory in Chapter 10. I could have guessed the S&M albino thug would have an abusive alcoholic father. I didn't think the novel would bother with his backstory, assuming, as readers likely would, that he'd have some horrid upbringing that led him to zealotry and a willingness to do others' bidding, no matter what was asked. Like Jaws or Oddjob, those over-the-top villain's assistants in the James Bond films, the albino Silas is our generic creepy evil-doer in service of the more evil-doing head villain. So, I didn't need his backstory. When I got it, it was entirely predictable and superficial, down to the butcher knife he used to stab his no-good, spouse- and child-abusing father in the back--and everywhere else, repeatedly. (I'm not arguing, by the way, that alcoholic men don't abuse and even murder their spouses with alarmingly culture-defining frequency; just that it was an easy/cheesy backstory for our albino villain's assistant.)

For sexism, I was truly surprised to see that, with the exception of Silas (who is, let's face it, an emasculated mess), the male characters are referred to by their last names (Langdon, Fache, etc.) while our intrepid cryptologist is always spoken of by her first name (Sophie). She becomes more personalized, less professional, more vulnerable. And I wonder if the author, Dan Brown, did this on purpose or not. I tend to think not.

I could go on, but let me pause here until I finish the novel and just say the whole thing has a kind of cheesy noir feel to it, artificially imposed and leaving me with a smirk on my face the whole time I'm reading it. Nonetheless, the religious symbology stuff is engaging and it is serving its purpose for me: escapism while I care for my very ill father.


What's New and Fabulous, Elyce?

What's new, Elyce? First and most fabulous, of course, is ME! I've lost almost 25 lbs. now, am bleaching my teeth, and had a fabulous Saturday Hallowe'en pub crawl with friends, dressed as a pirate babe! Men are giving me doubletakes these days and I must say I love it and need it! I'm also taking the motorcycle safety class soon and then, if it goes well, I plan to buy my friend Deb's 1999 Honda Shadow. (Can you say midlife crisis?!)

What are you reading, Elyce? Well, Chad and I are in the middle of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and loving it. He's a cocky fella, but so are most Christians we know, with perhaps less reason! He includes many gorgeous quotations from our country's "founding fathers," such as this gem from John Adams: "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!" Zowie! Or this delight from a later Adams, Douglas (author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy): "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" I know, I know: most of my friends reading this are agnostic or lapsed/casual Christians or Jews, but I'm enjoying the possibility of claiming well-deserved respect for atheists--and I'm hoping by the end of the book I can claim the title proudly (I feel sometimes like a cowardly agnostic...I so WANT to believe in reincarnation, but I really don't believe in God, just in being a good, caring person). As Dawkins' says about atheism, "I have found it an amusing strategy, when asked whether I am an atheist, to point out that the questioner is also an athiest when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further."

What's your next show, Elyce? Just got cast as Mother Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. Too funny, isn't it? (Lane has also been cast, as a newspaper boy who cries out "Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Local boy wins Congressional Medal of Honor!" It will be our first show together!)

And after that, Elyce? After the first of the year, I've been invited to play the young and beautiful widow who scorns, threatens to duel with, then falls for a brusque soldier in Chekov's early one-act play, "The Bear." It's a lovely role and the director will be my longtime MTSU colleague in English (now retired) Ayne Cantrell. How cool is that?

Anything else, Elyce? Heading out to visit my Dad Saturday for nine days. Send healthful thoughts for painless longevity his way.