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‘Da Vinci Code’ movie subtly softens material

Chief alterations come during Langdon-Teabing's pivotal discussion
/ Source: The Associated Press

While it will still offend some Christians, it turns out that the movie version of “The Da Vinci Code” subtly softens some of the religiously disputed aspects of Dan Brown’s novel.

The film still centers on a Jesus-Mary Magdalene marriage that’s nowhere to be found in the New Testament, which will rankle some believers, yet it also includes some skepticism toward characters’ claims that cut against traditional Christianity.

An early clue that the film is trying a different tack from the novel comes when it omits the book’s thesis: “Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.” The script instead turns that concept into a question: “What if the world discovers the greatest story ever told is a lie?”

The chief alterations, however, pop up during a pivotal theological discussion between the story’s two experts on religious history, Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen).

The maniacal Teabing makes the claim (disregarded by real-life scholars) that Christianity considered Jesus a mere man and turned him into a divinity in A.D. 325. Good-guy Langdon mildly objects, inserting a critical viewpoint that the novel lacks.

Teabing later drops in an unchallenged line saying the church kept the four Gospels that made Jesus divine and discarded writings that portrayed him as human. That one’s sure to miff scholars because the books that were ultimately left out of the New Testament generally portrayed Jesus as more divine than the Gospels do, not less.

When Teabing introduces the plot’s central theme about Jesus taking a wife, Langdon responds, “This is an old wives’ tale,” then repeats his doubts.

Indeed, there’s no historical evidence Jesus and Mary Magdalene were a couple, and the Mrs. Jesus idea upsets many — it’s a particular sticking point with Roman Catholics, due to the celibacy rule.

Langdon is portrayed as something of a believer, though in a New Age-y “whatever” sort of fashion. We learn that as a Catholic youngster, Langdon once prayed to Jesus when in peril and was delivered.

“What matters is what you believe,” he tells sidekick Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), as though the historical events Christianity is based on don’t matter. He later repeats the line in case anyone missed it.

The soft-pedaling didn’t work with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which issued a “morally offensive” rating to the film on Thursday.

Still, despite what angered religious groups see as wrong-headedness, the film won’t upend 2,000 years of Christian tradition.

Perhaps the most obvious sign that believers have little to fear came at the Cannes Film Festival when the movie reached its emotional and theological climax: People in the audience laughed.