Angels & Demons: a silly perspective

Just came from seeing Angels and Demons, the second Dan Brown filmatization.

I actually enjoyed it quite a lot; it was a very entertaining movie.

Well, entertaining since I knew the twist in the end, and thus found a very nice way of watching it.

(But a divider goes here because there’s that one twist in the film that will, in a youthful idiom, totally blow your mind if you know it in advance — so a divider here.)

And that twist is, of course, that the one behind all the mayhem isn’t the Illuminati, the greatly exaggerated and long since defunct Illuminati, whose tracks aren’t first traced by Langdon, since the young handsome Camerlengo is the one behind the whole Illuminati plot, and is spinning it all to advance his own personal version of the great lie from the sky.

And the overphilosophisizing silly way I watched and saw the movie, knowing this, was as follows.

See: everyone’s in the movie is an idiot, spouting mistakes and mischaracterizations left and right, and it helps there’s not a skeptic atheist among the lot. (Unless you count the lady physicist; I can’t memorize all the details of a film from a single watching.)

Langdon’s portrayed as a bit of an atheist, true, but of the fuzzy evasive apologetic agnostic variety, either timid or lazy, or then just a cheat, trying to win the Camerlengo to his side with Templeton quotes like “My mind tells me I will never understand God” and “Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.”

I personally like the “pulling the old Nonoverlapping Magisteria maguffin to get to the archives” interpretation of him; maybe it’s just because it’s so nice to see a hero that uses his brains instead of just butchering half the supporting cast and then braying victory.

Now, the supposed war of science and religion, the Illuminati and the Catholic Church.

There is no such thing in the film. Even the theft of the antimatter and, indeed, the papal murder, are a result of an innocent physicist blabbing about a secret scientific project to the religious folks because he couldn’t fit the cross-shaped peg into a science-shaped hole. And the big stirring “science and religion can coexist! (and scientists are arrogant worms!)” speech is actually given by the film’s real villain — a nice trick!

And all this while outside the ready-gathered gullible crowds applaud, and are fed lies by religious lords eager to keep their shame secret. Indeed, the lies told of the Camerlengo’s death and those of the cardinals are just a passive version of the morale-boosting spin that the Camerlengo tried so very actively to create.

Even the villain’s cat’s-paw, the face of the Illuminati, isn’t an atheist or a scientist as much as he’s just plain amoral and mercenary — and that’s not quite the same thing.

It’s really funny to see all the figures in the film mouthing the wrong and silly platitude that science and religion can and should coexist, and this is just the ol’ wrathful mad scientists preying on the poor nonviolent ones of faith — while all the mayhem in the film is caused by one of the religious, orchestrating a scary puppet show not so dissimilar from those wild conspiracies conjured up by science-spooked religious types. (“A homosexual Jewish atheist scientist in CERN in Europe is using the LHC to give birth to the Antichrist!”)

And of course there are no miracles in the movie, no acts of God — though plenty of examples of people being fooled or fooling themselves to think otherwise, all the way from the Catholic crowds to the new Camerlengo’s final words. (Also, to finish the theme of not bothering to tell the proles the truth of things, Strauss reminds Langdon that “When you write about us, and you will, do so gently.” Gentleness is no doubt understood as something distinct from and higher than truthfulness.)

Angels and Demons isn’t a film about science and religion; it’s about how religion is no barrier to people being venal and criminal — a point mentioned a few times in the film, though not in this light of mine — and how miracles can be manufactured, atrocities justified, realities twisted and truths hushed up once you have your head firmly in the Overgod Mode.

And as for Langdom himself — well, his symbolologism is just a gimmick, and being a hard science fan myself I’m much easier on silly overexaggerations of the social scientific sort.

Oh, one more thing — I’ve read the book but it was so long ago I don’t remember enough to do any comparisons. I just remember, and now am even more strongly of the opinion, that Angels and Demons is in its both forms much superior to the Davinci Code. (Hey, throw in an evil clergyman and I’m game.)

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