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Movie Review: Angels & Demons

May 17, 2009

Angels_and_demonsI was one hundred and one percent sure Angels & Demons was going to be just another less-than-sophisticated action-mystery flick, especially after a very weak The DaVinci Code (2006), meh. I only went to see it because I believe it mandatory for my education to suck in as much life juice as possible in order to get the bigger picture – yes, I’m a creative vacuum cleaner. So what the hell, I thought. And I was almost entirely right, until something utterly surprising happened: Angels & Demons has actual content. And heavy content!

But first, the material story:
Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the symbologist we know from The DaVinci Code, gets called in by the Vatican to solve a mysterious conspiracy threatening to destroy the spiritual and substantial core of the Roman Catholic Church by means of CERN-created anti-matter (“The God Particle”, check out the science behind the story!). Triggered by the Pope‘s (planned) death, the four “Preferrati” of the electing Conclave are held hostage and, despite the inevitable super-close races for lives, killed one by one in perfect historical style. It’s really quite beautiful :). Suspected attacker is the long believed extinct secret society of fundamental scientists called Illuminati, who had been a mortal enemy to the Catholic Church in a war of science vs. religion hundreds of years ago. But the strings are actually pulled from the inside by “Camerlengo” Patrick (Ewan McGregor), who is only using the Illuminati legend in a plot to become Pope himself and stop the Vatican’s scientific collaboration, which he regards as incompatible with religion (“If science takes over everything, what’s left for God?”). It remains veiled until a very late hour that the Illuminati are in fact nowhere around. Naturally, Langdon and a great deal of luck succeed in revealing the real story with Camerlengo Patrick as the cuprid, making the last of the Preferrati rightful Pope and saving Rome from blowing up just in time. – Well who would’ve thought? (Ceterum censeo Romam esse delendam.)
illuminati8The movie is packed with powerful cultural-historical references and a visual feast for classical art lovers. Swiss cinema-goers will enjoy a few funny Swiss Guard moments that are plain hilarious. And as a music maniac, I need to add that OST composer Hans Zimmer once more outdid himself by contributing an individually adequate score, somehow managing not to sound worn out after a felt 429’384 movies. Congrats!

So far so good, but still pretty unremarkable.

The actual amazingness that truly knocked me out of my seat only took a few short phrases. It’s the course of how Langdon (a convinced scientist himself) and the clergymen deal with each other throughout the movie; a perspective journey taken by both sides.

  • At the beginning, Langdon says: “Science obliterates religion”, making clear that the ancient antagonists see their causes as contradicting.
  • Later, the Camerlengo asks him: “Do you believe in God, Professor?” After an initial evasiveness, Langdon states: “I only know that I will never know God.” A diplomatic answer which is true for believers as well, signaling the circle of alienation is closing in.
  • At some point, Langdon even lets his emotional guard down for an insightful “Faith is a gift that hasn’t yet been bestowed upon me.” Beauty!
  • Facing Langdon’s criticism for the Church’s many moral slip-offs, his Cardinal friend admits: “Religion is flawed. Because humans are flawed”, and, pointing at himself, “This one as well.” Hats off to that sacred confession.
  • In the end, Langdon is – quite ironically – thanked for saving religion: “Thank God He sent you to save the Catholic Church.” – “I don’t believe God sent me.” – “Oh but of course He did.” (and they exchange some deeply understanding looks ;))

The happy ending? Certainly. Both parties’ attitudes go from hostile in the beginning over tolerating to mutual completion in the end. A peaceful path of coexistence; science even building a bridge to God. What a nice way to handle this delicate material – and an unexpectedly open, beautiful message!

This is what really lifts Angels & Demons from the bottomless sea of mystery-action mediocrity and, for me, made it worth taking in.

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