At the movies, is nothing sacred?Written by Lauri Donahue | | email@example.com
Once upon a time, movies in Ohio had to be licensed. It was the Board of Censors’ job to decide whether a film had a ”moral, educational or amusing and harmless character.”
In 1915, a case challenging this censorship, on the grounds that it violated the free speech provisions of the Ohio Constitution, reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that movies were not ”speech” and thus not entitled to protection: ”[Movies] are mere representations of events, of ideas and sentiments published and known, vivid, useful and entertaining no doubt, but … capable of evil, having power for it, the greater because of their attractiveness and manner of exhibition.”
In 1952, the Supreme Court reversed itself, in a case involving a claim that the Italian movie ”The Miracle” by Roberto Rossellini (Mr. Ingrid Bergman) violated a New York statute under which a film could be denied a license if it was ”sacrilegious.”
”The Miracle” was a modern-day nativity story which the National League of Decency, a U.S. Roman Catholic organization, condemned as ”a sacrilegious and blasphemous mockery of Christian religious truth.” The New York licensing board revoked the film’s license on the grounds that ”the mockery or profaning of these beliefs that are sacred to any portion of our citizenship is abhorrent to the laws of this great State.”The Supreme Court noted that proponents of the ban on the film ”urged that motion
pictures possess a greater capacity for evil, particularly among the youth of the community, than other modes of expression. Even if one were to accept this hypothesis, it does not follow that motion pictures should be disqualified from First Amendment protection.”
The Court concluded that a state could not ban a film on the basis of a censor’s conclusion that it was ”sacrilegious.”
Which brings us to ”The DaVinci Code.”
The opening of the film version of the mega-selling novel by Dan Brown has led to protests by Christians, and especially by Catholics and the Catholic Church. The essence of their concern is that the book and movie question the divinity of Jesus and accuse the Church of atrocities in a plot to suppress the ”divine feminine.”
Whether the film is ”blasphemous” or ”sacrilegious” is a matter for theologians. The film tries to deflect a charge of religious defamation by stressing that its villains are not ”the Church” or the Catholic organization Opus Dei (which in real life doesn’t even have monks, let alone homicidal albino ones) but a fictional rogue sect within these organizations.
The ”DaVinci” book compensated for ham-fisted writing with a break-neck pace. The movie plods along for two and a half hours. The script, by Akiva Goldsman (who did much better work on ”Cinderella Man”) is faithful to the book but only emphasizes its inherent weaknesses: the main characters are no more interesting than chess pieces being dragged across a map of Europe, and for anyone who knows the ”secret,” it’s about as engaging as a PowerPoint presentation.
What’s most intriguing about the whole ”DaVinci” phenomenon is that its mish-mosh of art, pseudo-history, legend, Gnostic theology, conspiracy theory and utter nonsense should be taken so seriously by so many. It’s like people seeing ”Men in Black” and calling for a Congressional investigation of the aliens among us.
E-mail columnist Lauri Donahue at firstname.lastname@example.org