Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 23, 2007)
When a DVD documentary tied to a big movie appears, it usually does so at a logical time. Maybe it hits during the flick’s theatrical run, or maybe it connects with the feature’s home video release, but it’s rare to find something that doesn’t use this logical timing.
And then there’s Secrets of the Code. An exploration of the facts behind The Da Vinci Code, why is the DVD hitting the shelves a year after the movie’s theatrical release – and about four years after the novel became a sensation? I have no clue, and I wonder if the Code cult remains strong enough to attract an audience for the documentary.
Narrated by Susan Sarandon, Secrets mixes illustrative elements like art and location shots with interviews. We hear from Institute for Mystical Studies co-directors John and Caitlin Matthews, The Prehistory of the Sacred Feminine author Duncan Caldwell, The Jesus Mysteries co-author Timothy Freke, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership president Rabbi Irwin Kula, Duquesne University Professor of Renaissance Art Elizabeth Lev, Gregorian University Professor of Theology Gerald O’Collins, Princeton University Professor of Religion and author of The Gnostic Gospels Elaine Pagels, The Templar Revolution authors Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, anthropologist Anna Fedele, Brother John Patrick, Hebrew University’s Joe E. Zias, Kabbala teacher Eldad Junoh, Pere Thierry Francois de Vregille, Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor author Susan Haskins, The Knights Templar: The History and Myths author Sean Martin, National Catholic Reporter Rome correspondent John Allen, Opus Dei spokeswoman Terri Carron, Holy Blood, Holy Grail author Richard Leigh, Rennes le Chateau: A Bibliography author John Saul, The Secret of Rennes le Chateau author Jean Luc Robin, Secrets of the Code editor Dan Burstein, composer Stuart Mitchell, Rosslyn and the Grail co-author Mark Oxbrow and evangelist Scott Johnson.
Secrets starts with a basic overview of the novel’s story. From there we get notes about “the sacred feminine” and its depiction through history, elements of Christianity and its development, and the Gnostic scriptures. The show covers Mary Magdalene, and we follow thoughts about her life and relationship with Jesus as well as the depiction of women in Christianity through the years. After this the show examines the Knights Templar, Opus Dei, the Priory of Scion, various conspiracy concepts, hidden information and codes, and the state of religion today.
I believe that most viewers of Secrets will go into it with the expectation that it’ll separate fact from fiction within Da Vinci Code. They’ll find a little of that material, but most of Secrets takes a broader focus.
And what is that focus? That’s a good question, and if you can answer it, let me know. I sure couldn’t figure out what purpose Secrest serves, but it sure isn’t a thorough examination of Da Vinci Code.
Indeed, the novel feels like little more than an excuse for the filmmakers to trot out their theological thoughts. Secrets works mostly as a screed to push a New Age-style “find God in yourself” concept. That’s the way it starts and where its themes ultimately go.
I might not mind that if a) it didn’t feel like false advertising and b) if the journey went more smoothly. Unfortunately, Secrets follows a clunky path to its end. It jerks us around from one vaguely Da Vinci Code-related location to another and throws concepts out way without interpretation. We get the opinions of various experts but nothing collates them into a concise package.
I suspect some of that was intentional since the filmmakers clearly want to tell us that there aren’t any facts or real answers to be found in religion. They purport that it’s all theory and interpretation, and they use the interviews to advance that thesis. Indeed, we often find one participant who firmly states one belief while the next firmly states the opposite, and both treat their ideas as facts.
The filmmakers’ thesis is perfectly valid and worth exploration. However, they don’t examine it well in this turgid, meandering program. During the early parts, I became impatient as I waited for the show to get to the point: the discussion of Da Vinci Code. Eventually I realized that Secrets never planned to do that. Perversely, this made the rest of the program more interesting, as I lost my annoyance that the documentary didn’t dig into the material it promised.
Or at least I lost some of my annoyance, as the whole “bait and switch” issue bugged me. I wouldn’t have minded that so much if Secrets ever became interesting or even moderately coherent. Instead, it lumbers from one topic to another and never engages the viewer. This is an awkward, clumsy show without much merit.