In 1517, Martin Luther was busying writing and distributing his 95 Theses, a document which called for the Roman Catholic Church to reform itself from the growing corruption within it. The Augustinian monk’s teaching against indulgences and in favor of salvation by God’s grace through faith alone drew the ire of Pope Leo X, who branded Luther a heretic for teaching things Leo said were against God.
And wouldn’t you know it? Just one year before Luther’s famous publication, Pope Leo X is busy battling another iconoclastic thinker.
Now, no one can deny that Leonardo da Vinci is an intelligent man. But the Pope finds Leonardo’s latest research to be quite blasphemous. And what work is that? Well, Leonardo’s been busy carving up cadavers, hoping to discover where the human soul lies. But Leo X tells Leonardo that such matters are none of his concern. Furthermore, continuing to pursue them will only end in the Church roasting Leonardo on a heretic’s pyre.
“Some things are only answered by God and the Church,” the Pope says, commanding Leonardo to instead create something that will fascinate new French monarch Francis I: a mechanical lion, capable of walking and dropping flowers for the king. And impress him it does—so much so that Francis asks Leonardo to come live in France.
And well, the aging man does exactly that, hoping that Francis’ friendlier nature will allow Leonardo to continue his study for the soul in secrecy. Only, Francis keeps commissioning the artist to work on a bunch of other projects in order to boost his image in the eyes of rival kings Henry VIII and Charles V.
It’s all so frustrating for Leonardo, who just wants to continue his study of human anatomy to figure out where God has placed the soul. In fact, for Leonardo, it’s his most pressing work.
That’s because he can feel his time in this world is going to end soon. And he still hasn’t figured out what that means for his own soul.
Leonardo da Vinci is as tenacious as he is inquisitive. And despite the threats against him, he’s determined to keep pursuing his understanding of where the soul resides. And several close friends of his encourage him in his studies.
Leonardo makes many comments that indicate that he has a belief in God—including believing that the soul continues on after bodily death, for instance. He wants to study God’s creation in order to learn more about the things He has made. Indeed, plenty of Christian scientists, such as Robert Boyle, Ernest Walton and Johannes Kepler, have cited their belief in God as a primary influence for their study of His creation.
But Leonardo also realizes that not everyone can appreciate these things. He divides the world into three types of people: “Those who see, those who see when they are shown, and those who do not see.” He states that when this third group is in power—as, he notes, they often are—they fear those who are able to see the greater things of God’s creation. At one point, Leonardo judges someone to be in the third group, but when the person comes around to Leonardo’s way of thinking, he realizes that he may have judged the man too quickly.
Pope Leo X does not like Leonardo da Vinci very much. It’s mostly due to Leonardo’s tendency to dive into topics that the Pope believes should be left alone; and anyone who does study these topics should be deemed a heretic studying witchcraft. Instead, Leo X believes that Leonardo and all other Christians should be as satisfied as sheep tended by a shepherd, which, in his definition, means being ignorant and maintaining a blind faith.
But make no mistake: Leonardo doesn’t have anything against God or faith. He just dislikes believing in things blindly. He’d rather study the things that God created in order to understand Him and His creation better. This belief culminates in Leonardo’s search for the soul. Leonardo believes if he can find the soul, he’ll find the answer to life itself. He’s also interested in the soul because it lives on even after our bodies fail.
In this pursuit, he briefly ponders whether he can find the soul through the “mind’s eye,” since it is the “window to the soul.” He says that the soul must reside on a “seat of judgment” that is called common sense.
Ultimately, Leonardo discovers what he believes to be the soul’s purpose. It’s not something you find, he says; “the soul is something you give” to others. He concludes that the secret of the soul is to share our passions with others. To that end, we see Leonardo give a glowing orb, his soul, to Francis I’s sister, Marguerite, since she’s been so open to his ideas throughout the film.
Leo X’s brother, Giuliano, reminds the Pope that everyone, including Leonardo, is made in the image of God. Leonardo suggests to the Pope that the best way to show God’s love is to aim for peace with France.
We see some famous biblical works, including The Last Supper, Creation of Adam and a few paintings that depict naked baby angels fighting against demons. Leonardo has a few dreams in which he is chased by a shadowy figure that represents death. Marguerite envisions an “ideal city” that emphasizes God’s creation. A man crosses himself.
Francis I occasionally calls Leonardo a “wizard.”
We see depictions of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man drawing and Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, both of which contain some artistic male nudity. We occasionally see baby cherubim with their rears visible.
A man and a woman share a kiss.
Pope Leo X threatens to burn Leonardo on a pyre if he continues to search for the soul via autopsy. And yes, we see some of the dead people Leonardo is cutting open—sickly colored corpses that Leonardo has a student of his steal from graves.
We normally just see the gray feet of such bodies sticking out from under a sheet, but on one occasion, we see the face of the corpse with its tongue hanging out. And while we do glimpse some of Leonardo’s sketches of the human body, we won’t ever see him actually cut into any bodies.
In one dream sequence, the shadow figure attacks Leonardo with an axe, and while we don’t see it hit him, we are made to understand that it connected. Leonardo has a stroke.
We also see the body of a man who passed away in his bed. We hear a song that recalls King Henry VIII’s tendency to decapitate people. We see an animation created by Leonardo in which he creates a powerful weapon for Pope Leo X to use against the French—it both explodes and chops the enemy into animated pieces, limb from limb.
All other violence onscreen is of the slapstick variety: a soldier’s head is extremely dented by a cannonball, but he gives a speech as if he’s completely fine. Henry VIII and Charles V frequently scuffle, resulting in a big cotton ball of dust to arise around them. Francis I is pelted off his mechanical horse by a giant bouncy ball.
There is one moment that sounds as if someone may be taking God’s name in vain, but the dialogue is a bit too muffled to tell for sure. Beyond that, a character yells, “Shoot!”
A character comments on the sickly state of someone else, noting that the person must’ve had too much wine.
Leonardo and his pupils steal many bodies set to be buried in a graveyard.
Allegedly, just before his death, Leonardo da Vinci uttered a tragic quote: “I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.”
The man spent his days inventing fascinating things that made him both friends and enemies. Many of these things remained as concepts. Few of them reached a level that satisfied Leonardo.
Perhaps that’s what drives The Inventor’s version of Leonardo, a man who is obsessed with finding the answer to the meaning of life through, literally, soul searching.
The film’s Leonardo does eventually discover his own philosophical meaning regarding the purpose of the soul—an understanding that seems completely disconnected from anything that really has to do with the soul, if I’m being honest.
And so while I wouldn’t call any of the content within The Inventor particularly noteworthy for its PG rating, its messages regarding the soul don’t reach the quality they should have.
Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”