Reader response is a wonderful style of literary criticism which allows the reviewer to just note down their personal reactions, even if those reactions occurred while watching the show at midnight, when we get sleepy and our inner five-year-old emerges.
This post doesn’t explain the plot step by step, but it does contain all the spoilers and all the sarcasm.
So, my reactions to the movie version of Angels and Demons, in order …
1. Oooh, these Catholics are so mysterious and sinister!
2. Science-y stuff is happening inside the big collider. The people are speaking French. They think the collider might blow everything up, but they press on anyway because it’s Science.
3. Now they have made antimatter.
4. The messenger from the Vatican speaks English with a cool, ominous accent. He seems to be perfectly fluent, but he can’t remember the word formídable. The closest he can get is for-mi-dá-blay. The professor has to translate for him.
5. The professor is really smart. He knows more about Catholic history than the Catholics themselves. Seems legit.
6. The Illuminati were a bunch of honest truth seekers who were absolutely, positively not into the occult. They were just rationalists and scientists who were persecuted by the Catholic Church. Now they want to use the antimatter to blow up a small country (Vatican City), but that is totally justified because the Catholics branded a cross on the chests of five Illuminati back in the 1500s.
7. The Illuminati have kidnapped the four preferiti, a.k.a. Cardinals who are being considered to become the next Pope. The other Cardinals are in conclave. The Great Elector, the leader of these, is obviously the bad guy. He doesn’t want to evacuate St. Peter’s Square, even though it clearly might be a good idea. He has “I WANT TO BE POPE” written on his forehead, and it’s possible he is behind this whole scheme. He either works for the Illuminati, or is more likely using them.
8. The Illuminati assassin is torturing the preferiti one by one and leaving them around Vatican City for the Professor to find.
9. VATICAN CITY SCAVENGER HUNT!!!
10. Wow, I am just learning so much from this movie. I had NO IDEA that the church adopted the symbols and holidays of previous pagan religions, or that Dec. 25 was originally … oh, wait. Yes I did. I wrote an article about it here.
11. Also, English was the language of rebels and mavericks, like Shakespeare and Chaucer. (Chaucer????)
12. Honestly. There are no admirable characters in this movie. Not the Great Elector, not the Komandant of the Swiss guard, not the Illuminati assassin because torture, not the Professor because he always looks like everyone is getting on his last nerve with all this religion stuff … The only admirable character is a young priest who was the Pope’s protégé and who confusingly still loves the church as a place of simple people full of compassion even though he admits the church has “always sought to impede progress.” I’ll bet he apostatizes before the end. Either that or he becomes the next Pope.
13. The Pope was murdered, by the way. Turns out he didn’t really have a stroke. I think we are supposed to feel sorry for him (or for the protégé), but the scene when they open his coffin displays a black, swollen tongue protruding from his mouth and spreading a stain over the rest of his face. Clearly super symbolic.
14. Speaking of symbolism, in one scene the Professor gets trapped in the Vatican Archives. To preserve the ancient books there, oxygen is kept to a low level and the walls are lined with lead. When the power goes off, the electronic doors lock. The professor has to break out of this hall of old books where he cannot breathe or communicate with the outside world, or he will literally die from being stifled. The only way he can break out is to push a heavy bookcase full of priceless artifacts into the re-enforced glass, destroying these precious objects.
Hmm, what ever could all of this symbolize? Let me think …
15. OK, they have saved the one remaining preferitus. And they have found the antimatter. But – oh no! – they can’t replace the battery that will prevent an explosion, without possibly causing an explosion.
16. The protégé is taking the antimatter up in a helicopter so the explosion doesn’t kill anyone! He’s going to be martyred and made a saint!
17. Oh wait, he parachuted out!
18. But the explosion high over St. Peter’s Square is blowing his parachute all around! He’s going to die after all.
19. He survived! Now the cardinals are finding an obscure bylaw that allows them to make him Pope.
20. But the Professor has just found a hidden video that shows the protégé was the one who hired the assassin! He just made it look like an Illuminati plot! It was him all along!
I did not see that coming.
21. But the reasons he did it were the same old tired reasons we have been told all along. He killed the Pope because the Pope was OK with the scientists making antimatter and the protégé thought it was blasphemous.
22. In other words, he did all this in order to impede progress because he thought it might diminish the power of the church.
23. The lady scientist feels guilty about having made antimatter because it was stolen by the assassin and almost used to kill thousands of people. She wonders if they should go on making antimatter.
The professor encourages her to make some more. That’s good advice. After all, what are the odds of something like this happening again?
24. The Great Elector is now allowing the remaining preferitus to become Pope and is acting all nice & humble towards the Professor. “Religion is flawed, but that’s because people are flawed.”
OK, I was wrong about the Great Elector. Still, this feels like Dan Brown is trying to have it both ways. He’s just spent an entire movie showing us that religious zeal is really really bad and destructive, but now he wants to say that it’s also not, with no reasons given.
Verdict: I ended up really enjoying this movie because it was so twisty. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was a hatchet job. Even the twists serve its purpose, because the person behind the evil plot turned out to be the character who seemed the most saintly and was certainly the most zealous. He ends up setting himself on fire, murmuring, “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit” and then screaming and writhing like a demon as he burns. If that’s not blasphemous I don’t know what is.