Christian groups protest at making of The Da Vinci Code film

The transformation of The Da Vinci Code into a film has been fraught with tensions between the film's makers and Christian organisations.


On 6 May, the film's director, Ron Howard, who also directed A Beautiful Mind, turned down requests from Opus Dei, the Catholic organisation portrayed in it as a group of fanatics willing to murder for their religion, to add a disclaimer at the beginning of the film describing it as as work of fiction.

“This is a work of fiction that presents a set of characters that are affected by these conspiracy theories and ideas,” he said. “Those characters in this work of fiction act and react on that premise. It's not theology. It's not history. To start off with a disclaimer ... spy thrillers don't start off with disclaimers.”

Brian Finnerty, Opus Dei's US spokesman, said, “A disclaimer could have been a way for Sony to show that the company wants to be fair and respectful in its treatment of Christians and the Catholic church.”

Earlier in the year, Opus Dei called on the film's producers, Sony, to change the ending in order to avoid offending Catholics. Opus Dei said changes to the film would be appreciated by Catholics, “particularly in these days in which everyone has noted the painful consequences of intolerance” (this in reference to violence in the Muslim world sparked by the publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.)

“It's not enough to offer to the offended party the opportunity to defend itself while the offence continues,” Opus Dei said. “Correct behaviour is to avoid offence while it's still possible. By making the changes, Sony would demonstrate that freedom of expression is compatible with respect for beliefs while also offering “a service to the cause of dialogue among cultures.”

The Vatican was also displeased by the making of the film, and by the book itself. It backed a documentary called The Da Vinci Code: A Masterful Deception. In it, Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Nigerian prelate who was a contender to become Pope, urged Christians to initiate legal action against both the film and the book. “Christians must not just sit back and say it is enough for us to forgive and to forget,” he said. “Sometimes it is our duty to do something practical. So it is not I who will tell all Christians what to do, but some know legal means which can be taken in order to get the other person to respect the rights of others. This is one of the fundamental human rights: that we should be respected, our religious beliefs respected, and our founder Jesus Christ respected.”

In April, a South Korean Christian group filed for a court injunction to stop a movie distributor from showing The Da Vinci Code. “The Da Vinci Code is a movie which belittles and tries to destroy Christianity,” said the Rev Hong Jae-chul of the Christian Council of Korea, an umbrella group of over 60 Korean Protestant denominations.

But a judge dismissed the injunction, saying, “As it is clear that the novel and movie are all fiction ... there is no probability that the movie can make viewers mistakenly believe the contents of the movie are facts,” said chief judge Song Jin-hyun.”

In Thailand, Christian groups demanded that government censor the film, and a police-run censorship board ordered the last 10 minutes to be cut and some sub-titles to be changed. In India, Joseph Dias, the head of the Catholic Secular Forum, began a hunger strike. “We want the movie to be banned,” he said.

The Da Vinci Code film stars Tom Hanks, Ian McKellen and Audrey Tatou. During the making of the film, director Ron Howard claimed that French President Jacques Chirac tried to persuade the the makers of The Da Vinci Code to give the leading female role to one of his daughter's actor friends.

The film will be released worldwide on 19 May, but critics have not been impressed by early viewings. The New York Times called it “An unwieldy, bloated puzzle.”

John Byrne