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Tom Neven

Movie Review

Robert Langdon is a Harvard professor of symbology, not a homicide cop. So why do the Parisian police call him to help solve the murder of a museum curator at the world-renowned Louvre? Because this is no ordinary crime scene. Aside from its unlikely setting, the body itself, as well as the immediate surroundings, bear mysterious symbols that seem to point toward the likely killer.

Paired with a French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, Robert tries to decode the clues. The first one he seems to miss, though, is that the relentless investigator assigned to the case, Captain Bezu Fache, suspects Robert of the murder.

Robert and Sophie soon uncover a conspiracy so vast and so explosive that it would turn the world upside down should it ever be revealed. This conspiracy involves a secret society whose alleged membership has included Leonardo Da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton and Victor Hugo. It posits an alternate “truth” about the founding of the Christian church and the origin of the Bible. And it calls into question the very nature of Jesus Christ.

Positive Elements

Robert and Sophie dedicate themselves to digging down through the layers of lies hoping to find the truth (they don’t ever find it, but their aim is admirable), putting themselves at considerable risk in that search. In one instance, Sophie defies a killer to protect an important secret and, hopefully, to save Robert’s life. Captain Fache at first allows a personal motive to steer his investigation, but as he unravels the loose ends, he begins to set aside this bias in an effort to crack the case.

Spiritual Elements

[Spoiler Warning] The basic premise of The Da Vinci Code is that Christianity as the world understands it today is based on a historical fraud. The story charges that the Roman emperor Constantine was not a Christian convert, as history records, but rather a pagan who forced the church to adopt certain positions in A.D. 325 at the Council of Nicea, from which we get the Nicene Creed. It maintains that Constantine started a cover-up about the “true” story of Jesus Christ—namely, that He was merely human, not divine, and that He was married to Mary Magdalene with whom he fathered a “royal bloodline” that survives to this day. The legendary Holy Grail, it insists, was not the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper, but the very womb of Mary Magdalene. (More on this in my “Conclusion.”)

Robert’s old friend and fellow historian, Sir Leigh Teabing, goes to some length to blame God and His followers for the majority of the world’s ills—past and present. In his mind, freedom for mankind can come only if everyone stops believing in God. “As long as there has been one true God, there has been killing in His name,” he states. Later he asks, “What if the world finds out that the greatest story ever told is a lie?” And he wants Jesus to be “shown for what He was, not miraculous, mad.”

Sophie asks Robert, “Are you a God-fearing man?” Robert responds, “Well, I was raised Catholic.” He recounts a time when, as a young boy, he’d fallen in a well and prayed to Jesus. “Sometimes I wonder if I was alone down there,” he says.

A mysterious albino monk (named Silas), who is under orders from a dogmatic Roman Catholic sect, prays in front of a crucifix before setting out to kill. He also prays over a person he has just slain. He allows a victim to recite a last prayer before shooting him. And he says, “Christ give me strength,” before killing.

A secret society says its mission is to “protect the source of God’s power on earth.” A clue unearthed by the monk contains a stone with Job 38:11 etched on it; a nun later recites part of the verse: “This far you may come and no farther.” The nun then tells Silas: “Jesus had but one true message.” Sophie later challenges the same killer monk: “Your god doesn’t forgive murderers; he burns them.”

There’s talk of a pentacle symbol representing devil worship. It’s pointed out that the pentacle is also the symbol for Venus, which itself is supposedly the symbol of the “sacred feminine.” The star of David is deemed a pagan diagram as well. There are two (one visual, one verbal) brief references to ritualized sex …

Sexual Content

… in which masked figures watch a naked couple writhing beneath a sheet; we briefly see the woman’s bare back. Sophie asks in disbelief if people believed they could find God through sex.

Da Vinci-era paintings of nude women are seen at various times throughout the film, as are statues. Prostitutes proposition men in a run-down section of Paris. When Robert discusses the pagan symbols for male and female fertility, Teabing makes a joke about male genitals.

Violent Content

The Da Vinci Code‘s violence pushes at the boundaries of the PG-13 rating. The monk engages in rituals of self-mutilation in several scenes. Stripped nude, he fastens a device around his thigh that gouges into the flesh and muscle, with bloody results. We see his severely scarred and bloody back before and while he whips himself. His flagellation is accompanied by him praying before a crucifix. And he says, “I chastise my body,” a corruption of the meaning in 1 Corinthians 9:27. As all of this is going on, the camera watches intently, showing audiences the majority (but not quite all) of his nakedness from multiple angles.

Likewise, bloody diagrams carved into the body of a nude murder victim who is lying splayed on the floor are studied by the camera; high contrast and harsh lighting are the only things that hide his midsection as they create “perfectly placed” whiteouts and dark shadows.

A man holds a knife at Sophie’s throat, drawing blood. (She also has a gun held to her head, as do others.) A criminal’s neck is snapped, and we get an eyeful of his very bloody face. Captain Fache knocks a man to the floor and kicks him viciously (and repeatedly). Silas beats a nun with a large stone artifact, killing her.

There are several shootouts. In one, a bishop is seriously wounded. Policemen are hit before the assailant is brought down; we see bloody bullet wounds on his body as he dies. Another man is shot execution-style. In flashback we see a man beating his wife, and his son retaliates by plunging a knife into him. In other flashbacks we see a man run through with a spear, bodies burning at the stake, and “witches” being beaten and drowned. Crusade-era knights fight with swords. A body tumbles from a castle wall. And a knight is stabbed as he lies in bed (we see the bloody blade penetrate from below).

A head-on collision between a car and a semi is shown from inside the car. Sophie careens her car backward through the streets and over a sidewalk, narrowly missing pedestrians and barely avoiding crashing into other vehicles.

Crude or Profane Language

Four or five uses of the s-word (half of them in subtitles). Other crudities, including “h—,” “bastard” and variations of “a–” are also printed onscreen. (And some cursing in French is not translated into the subtitles.) God’s and Jesus’ names are abused about 10 times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Robert and Sophie come upon a drug user in a park preparing to shoot up heroin. Sophie pays him to stop and walk away from his “stuff.” Then she snaps the needle off the syringe. A man drinks from a hip flask thinking it’s booze; it’s actually lethal poison. Surrounded by police in London, Teabing jokes about an old “cannabis charge.” An officer smokes a cigar.


Based on the novel by Dan Brown, which has sold more than 40 million copies since it was published in 2003, The Da Vinci Code arrives in theaters with considerable controversy preceding it. On his Web site, Brown tries to answer charges that his (tall) tale is anti-Christian by writing, “This book is not anti-anything. It’s a novel. I wrote this story in an effort to explore certain aspects of Christian history that interest me.”

That’s interesting, to say the least, since Brown opens his book by writing, “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” [Spoiler Warning] By extension, then—despite his online disclaimer—he, his book and now his movie assert that 1) The New Testament is not the “true” account of the life of Jesus. Rather, the Gnostic Gospels tell the true story. 2) Jesus was not fully God and fully man, as taught in Scripture and affirmed by early church creeds, but was merely a man who was declared divine by an emperor’s decree hundreds of years after the fact. 3) Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered children, founding a royal bloodline that exists to this day. 4) The first leader of the church was not any of the apostles but rather Mary Magdalene, and this fact was covered up and any dissent ruthlessly crushed by the Roman Catholic church. 5) A secret society called the Priory of Sion, founded in 1099, exists to expose the “truth” that the church is hiding. 6) The Catholic group Opus Dei is the church’s arm tasked with crushing this opposition.

In response to such assertions, a belfry full of countering books and Web sites have sprung up.

It seems that even director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman wanted to back off some of Brown’s “out-there” spiritual revisionism. (Credit them, too, with dialing back the story’s sexual content, particularly a graphic description of a religious orgy detailed in the book.) In press materials issued by Columbia Pictures, the studio contradicts Brown’s declaration that the Priory of Sion is a real secret society. It points out that this legend has been debunked as a fraud perpetrated by Pierre Plantard, a French con artist who invented the “Priory of Sion” in 1956 as part of a scam against the French government.

Other changes: the movie’s Robert Langdon is different from the novel’s. Here he’s much more of a skeptic. For example, he challenges what Teabing says about Jesus’ supposed marriage. He also seems much more open to the claims of Christianity, even talking at one point about praying and sensing the protective presence of God. And while the book flatly states, “Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false,” the movie soft-sells this thunderclap by turning it into a question: “What if the world discovers the greatest story ever told is a lie?” (Words put into the mouth of the villain.)

But this Da Vinci Code-lite, so to speak, still sets out to sow seeds of doubt about the Christian faith and it challenges important core truths established in Scripture. It also leads to an absurd—and damaging—conclusion. Robert ultimately tells Sophie, “What matters is what you believe.” Never mind evidence, history or sound reasoning. Just believe what you want. It’s a shaky (and shoddy) theology that clashes with the solution to the story’s central mystery since the movie must believe the very things Robert is doubting if it’s to end the way it does—by providing “proof” that all the previously mentioned nonsense is still, somehow, true.

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Tom Neven