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Cinema in Focus: ‘Angels & Demons’

This second film by author/producer Dan Brown is more balanced than his first, 'The DaVinci Code'

3 Stars — Challenging

As a suspenseful mystery, Angels & Demons is a better film than The DaVinci Code. Both films are directed by Ron Howard and are based on the fiction of Dan Brown. Both are conspiracy films with anti-Catholic ingredients creating fictional acts of atrocity and deceit supposedly perpetuated by the church. However, in this film, the plot is more complex and shows both positive images of people of faith while showing that deceit can occur in all people.

The central character is Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks). As in the first film, Langdon is brought in to help solve a mysterious murder in which an “illuminati” symbol has been left. When asked about his own beliefs, he describes himself as a person who has “not yet received the gift of faith.”

The female lead is a scientist named Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer). She is part of a team of scientists working on a top-secret project to capture anti-matter in a high security lab, but the lab is robbed at the moment of their success and someone steals the canister with the extremely dangerous particles of anti-matter.

What we soon discover is that the robbery is motivated not out of greed but out of vengeance. Supposedly, centuries earlier, the church had murdered four scientists, which forced a secret society of scientists to go underground. That society has returned to destroy the church by capturing the top four cardinals who are most likely to become pope, murdering them one by one in honor of the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water, and then destroying Vatican City with an explosion of light using the anti-matter.

Though there is an actual historical group called the Illuminati, this is a fictional use of their existence. Historically, the Catholic Church never murdered the scientists, nor did the scientists go underground to form a secret society, and they certainly didn’t become vengeful murderers of Catholic Cardinals. It is this fact that has caused the Catholic Church to ask for a disclaimer in the film, which author/producer Brown didn’t do.

One of the values of the film are the theological questions raised by the priests and cardinals. One example is when Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl) proclaims that the real problem is not religion but flawed humans, including himself. This is also seen in the discussion between the Camerlengo Patrick MecKenna (Ewan McGregor) and Langdon when he makes the assessment that, “Faith is a gift I have yet to receive.” Though most people of faith would agree with the Cardinal’s assertion, they would disagree with Langdon. Faith is not a gift but a developing trust in God over time.

If you view this movie as a fictional mystery that has no basis in reality, Angels & Demons is an interesting film. Using the Catholic Church and the uneasy relationship between religion and science as a backdrop, the film is engaging even with its anti-Catholic agenda. Perhaps if this agenda can be removed from any subsequent films by this writer, then both respect and art can co-exist.

Discussion:

» Cardinal Strauss proclaims that the real problem is not religion but flawed humans, including him. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

» The death-defying act of Camerlengo Patrick McKenna requires intricate timing. Do you believe it was part of his original plan?

» Do you believe there is an actual conflict between science and religion? Why?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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