Angels & Demons: An unenlightened take on faith and reason

03 Jun 2009

By The Record

A desensitised and increasingly demanding audience’s insatiable appetite for the shock factor, mixed with western society’s rampant relativism, is a dangerous cocktail, and is manifested in an ugly way at the Catholic Church’s expense in Angels & Demons, writes Catholic Youth Ministry’s Catherine Gallo Martinez.


While sex, drugs and guns sell in Hollywood movies, audiences have become increasingly desensitised and demanding. This appetite of the western consumer has alarmed the commercial film industry into rousing greater ‘shock factors’ to feed the audience and deplete their wallets.
This demand, together with the western world’s rapid imposition of relativism, has turned the portrayal of human integrity in films as more a ‘matter of opinion’ from authors and directors alike.
This is a dangerous trend which has been evolving since Hollywood began. Problem is, this opinion is expressed with a lack of moral responsibility and complete disregard of its social, psychological and moral influence.
Angels and Demons – directed by Ron Howard, aka Richie Cunningham from Happy Days lore –is brilliantly composed in both art and technical aspects.
But its script is diminished into a basic compilation of stereotypes and manipulation of historical events. 
This should not be surprising, given that the Angels & Demons novel – written by Dan Brown before the more controversial The Da Vinci Code – in fact bombed in bookstores and has only enjoyed a revival thanks to the controversy and subsequent runaway box office success of Howard’s The Da Vinci Code movie, which played on the very same stereotypes. More on them later.
As I watched the opening of the film, I was struck by the impeccable replica of St Peter’s Basilica: a magnificent work by the set designers. Indeed, throughout the film, the archeological and artistic integrity of the buildings was matched beautifully.
The movie Angels and Demons has Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Oscar winner Tom Hanks) as the protagonist who solves the mystery of the secret brotherhood “Illuminati” and saves the Vatican from a new destructive weapon that could kill millions.
It is in these two main subjects, the Vatican and the Illuminati, that the writer has conveyed one of the main themes of the film, which also happens to be one of the most embellished that critics use against the Catholic Church today: a Church that is out of touch, with ‘old fashioned’ values.
This was typified when Langdon at one stage says, as a historic expert: “(The Church’s) ancient traditions threatened by the modern world”. Here, both the author and director insinuate a Church that has ideologies and beliefs that related to a people of a time early in history, but holds no purpose for people of the 21st century.
Wrong, Messrs Howard and Brown. God-given human values are not changeable, do not weaken through generations, or become over-powered by ‘modernisms’.
And so, in stating the opposite, the writers attack the core of the Truth of the Catholic Church, and at the same time, propose that the ‘modern world’ has evolved and does not rely on God and Truth alone, but replaces it instead with the fruitlessness of relativism. No such thing as divine revelation, apparently.
Later, the film sustains its assertion by sensationalising the events between the Church and the Illuminati, and has a priest character in the film state: “I’m not surprised – the ghosts have come back to haunt us.”
The ghosts – being the Church’s acts against the Illuminati – has the Church not only out of date, but also corrupt with no further information, provoking an open question about its authenticity, respect and intent.
Then the Cardinals appeared… A group of white-haired, alert, men in red; wearing fashionable sunnies, smoking cigarettes, and talking on mobile phones.
The cardinals are introduced in the movie looking more like a Mafia mob than consecrated men in a time of re-electing a new Pope.
This visual, combined with inflicting dialogue from Langdon as he examines the past of the Illuminati:  “you guys don’t even read your history…” and asserting to the priests that the December 25 derived from a pagan celebration, serves as a type of mockery to further propagate a Church run by naïve and uneducated leaders. Though these types of movies might not propose a threat to the Church and its teachings, there is a lack of moral responsibility of the writer and entertainer in this case.
Although Angels and Demons could be seen as a fun, inventive journalist work of fiction, one of its most controversial scenes shows a cardinal, in a pool of blood, dying on the street of Rome from multiple stab wounds to his lungs.
Langdon gets his hands bloody, and in the following scene, is washing it off vigorously in a sink, and with fury rips the white clerical collar from a priest’s habit and throws it on the floor. In such related instances, we must ask: is being sacrilegious the new ‘sex sells’?
As a fan of Agatha Christie, I am always on the lookout for a good murder mystery. And as I sat in the cinema watching the mystery unfold, I realised that my expectations of the film have been too high. By the end of the film, it seemed that the climax wasn’t forthcoming.
I was left wanting a bigger twist and bigger excitement, but a foreshadowing of the end came too early – not typical for a strong mystery genre flick.
So the plot was weak. But the tension was carried strongly by intriguing music, soft lighting and long frames – the cinematographer was superb, and small details of the magnificent replica was never missed.
Still, the film relies on the old cliché that Conspiracy theories sell – but conspiracy theories also seem to have immunity to the truth, especially when money furthers the cause.
Neither Dan Brown nor Ron Howard have been the first to create entertainment at the expense of the Catholic Church.
Even the novel’s title and the film’s content lack originality – you can find in Codex Magica: A code book of illuminati symbols by Texe Marrs, in a chapter titled:  “part angel, part devil”.
Sometimes non-sense, sometimes fun, Howard’s Angels and Demons is still a well structured thriller in a classical style, which has not received as much hype as the best seller “The Da Vinci Code” – but two things are for sure: Tom Hank’s character, Robert Langdon, is no Indiana Jones.
Brown’s fabrication of the Church and its history have not been overlooked either by the world’s greatest theologians and historians.
You need only contact The Record on 08 9227 7080 or email  to request information and books debunking Dan Brown’s work.

Catherine Gallo Martinez is a parish officer for Perth’s Catholic Youth Ministry.