Culture > Movies

Wrestling with Demons

"Wrestling with Demons" Continued...

Issue: "Playing with capitalism," May 23, 2009

The book's conclusion involves a showdown between science and religion. Though it retains a fantastical ending, the film softens the theme: Early on we learn that church and science are a "different language telling the same story" and we are told near the end, "the world is in need of science and faith"-perhaps in contrast to the faithful in St. Peter's Square seen carrying "stem cell research is murder" placards.

Howard told me he doesn't personally see a bright line between science and religious faith, specifically Christian faith, "but I recognize that in some circles there is one." He said in reference to criticism from church leaders, "In my heart I am not intentionally trying to upset people. By the same token, if I did not believe in some of the main themes and questions or the Robert Langdon stance, I would not be making the movie. If that is controversial to people, so be it."

Regarding changes made from book to screen, Howard said, "There was no attempt to soften or strengthen the themes." That may be true, but behind-the-scene changes suggest an attempt to move away from Howard's previous Brown adaptation. Howard called in Indiana Jones screenwriter David Koepp for Angels and hired Catholic advisers on the set for filming in the United States and Rome. In Rome he also brought in as a consultant Elizabeth Lev, an art historian and outspoken critic of The Da Vinci Code who wrote an article in 2004 about the "silly speculations of Dan Brown."

An American who lives in Rome and teaches art and architecture at Duquesne University's Italian campus, Lev says Brown's book "sounds like one of my college students who did not do his homework but loves Rome." She told me she had "major qualms" about being involved in the second movie but realized it was an opportunity for furthering a discussion on the historic role of religion.

Angels' principals, too, found themselves engaging religious questions. Hanks declared to reporters in Rome ahead of the premiere, "I am a spiritual man," citing his membership in a Greek Orthodox church where he and his wife were married, where she was baptized, and where his children were baptized in the same font. Pressed at one point to discuss his views of the Vatican and its policies, including teaching on birth control and condoms, Hanks looked quizzical for a moment then deadpanned, "Because I am a happily married man for 21 years, I don't even know what a condom is."

McGregor told reporters he is "not a religious person and has no experience in theology" but said: "If I thought the movie was anti-Catholic, I would not have done it."

Favino, a star in Italy appearing in his fourth American film, is a practicing Catholic and told reporters he believes Angels is in line with history in its depiction of violence and abuse in the church. "The idea of the sacred was always seen as connected with the body. In the modern age the body is erased as the place of sin, but this is why Jesus Christ became a man and took on flesh, to bear sins."

Even the movie itself seems to plead for understanding, as an elderly cardinal tells Langdon at story's end, "When you write us up, go gently . . . man is flawed, including all men."

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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