Last week, I dived deep into the archivist’s role in 2004’s National Treasure… so it should come as no surprise that this week, it feels fitting to explore the 2007 sequel, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.
Here’s a snippet of the sequel’s plot, from the back of the DVD:
This film “[t]akes you on a globe-trotting quest full of adrenaline-pumping twists and turns — all leading to the final club in a mysterious and highly guarded book containing centuries of secrets. But there’s only one way to find it — Ben Gates must kidnap the President.”
So… in the first film, Ben Gates steals the Declaration of Independence; in the sequel, he “upgrades” to kidnapping the President. Okaaaaaaaaaaay.
*POTENTIAL SPOILERS THROUGHOUT*
Here’s a trailer for National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets:
What do I like about the film?
That the word “book” is in the movie’s subtitle, that Helen Mirren co-stars in the sequel (she plays an expert on ancient Native American languages), and that the Library of Congress also gets a co-starring role! 😉
What do I NOT like about the film?
Uh, everything else. The talented cast is wasted in this paint-by-numbers, pedestrian action film. And it’s not just me! The film “earned” two Razzie Award nominations: Worst Actor for Nicolas Cage and Worst Supporting Actor for Jon Voight.
Eight minutes into the film, we get a wide shot of a scene that’s clearly set in a bookstore (not a library!). The sidekick, Riley (Justin Bartha), has written a book, and it’s clear he’s trying to cash in on the fame. (But the book he’s written will be an important plot point later.)
However, no one’s really interested in the sidekick.
Trouble in (archives) paradise:
We also learn early one that Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger, downgraded from 2nd billing in the first film to 3rd billing in the sequel, boo!) have broken up. But Gates needs to break into her house because of PLOT reasons that have something to do with John Wilkes Booth, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and the reputation of the Gates family.
As Gates puts it, “I need to get Abigail’s ID. She has access to the Booth diary page.”
Long story short, they do break in, and Gates pulls open Abigail’s desk drawer to grab her ID badge… which now reads “Library of Congress.”
There’s no explanation given, but it’s clear that Chase has moved from the National Archives to the Library of Congress within the previous three years. My thoughts for the reason why? Because of PLOT. 😉
And OF COURSE Chase comes home early — she’s been on a date! — and we get to see her all gussied up in a fancy dress and heels. She’s been on a date with the “White House curator” (another reel archivist?), and here’s his reaction to her home:
Connor: Wow. You work in a museum, and you live in one.
Chase: Pretty much.
Caught red-handed breaking into her house, Gates tries to smooth-talk his way out of the situation, but Chase sees right through him. The resulting conversation echoes their first conversation together from the first film.
Chase: Hand it over, Ben.
Gates: I need to see the Booth diary page.
Chase: You saw the page yourself. There is no treasure map on it.
Gates: No, it’s a cipher leading to a map. Anyone spectral-image the page?
Chase: No need to. The ink writing on the page is clearly visible.
Gates: It could have been erased or faded. You’re the director of document conservation. You know all this.
Chase: It’s not up to me. It’s not my department.
Gates: That department reports to your department. Come on. One look under infrared.
I do enjoy this bit of conversation, even if only to get a clue about her new job and title!
The white glove returns!
The next scene takes place in what I assume is a lab in the Library of Congress, where Chase is using a computer and infrared scan. The iconic white gloves, an essential tool in the archivist’s toolbox, do make an appearance, but it’s interesting to note that Chase only has a white glove on her left hand, and not her right hand while she’s using the computer.
This short scene is also notable for its use of modern archivist technology this time — no lemon juice or hairdryers this time! 😉
They do find a cipher on the back of the page — DA DA DUMMMMMMM! — and she sends the document to the scanner.
Chase takes off the glove on her left hand and pull outs a copy of the document from the scanner. You can see her white gloves in the background of the closeup.
Here’s how this scene and its importance to Chase’s identity as a reel archivist is described in the “Crossing a Librarian with a Historian: The Image of Reel Archivists” article by Aldred, Burr, and Park:
“In the sequel National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007), we once again encounter Abigail Chase; she performs one “archival” function: she uses a computer to manipulate a digital image of a page torn from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, all the while either wearing or holding a white glove. This humorous image aside, we learn that she is now working for the Library of Congress and is Director of Document Conservation.” (p. 85)
The book of secrets:
The “book of secrets” is solved midway through the film. Remember Riley’s treasure-hunting book that nobody wanted to read? Turns out, he wrote a chapter about “The President’s Secret Book” and a secret seal. (The trio had discovered this seal on an adventure in London, for reasons of PLOT.)
It was definitely a moment for “suspension of disbelief” and massive eye-rolling, because the “President’s Secret Book” and secret seal feels like something both Chase and Gates would already know about, right? But at least Riley gets his moment in the spotlight.
Library of Congress connection:
So all of this secret book nonsense leads Gates to, naturally, have to kidnap POTUS in order to confront him about the book and how to find it. As you do. This leads them to the Library of Congress.
President: The book exists.
Gates: Where is it?
President: Where else do you keep a book? In the Library of Congress.
POTUS then gives Gates a code: XY 234786.
I immediately shouted out at the screen, “It’s a call number!!!!” And of course, it had to be a Library of Congress call number, which start with a combination of letters, followed by numbers. (Dewey Decimal call numbers start with numbers, 000s through 900s.)
And now we know why Dr. Abigail Chase had to switch jobs from the National Archives to the Library of Congress. I had mused it was for reasons of PLOT. And here’s where that plot point pays off…
Library of Congress archivist leading the way:
At 1 hour and 11 mins into the film, Chase leads the way to the Library of Congress. Doesn’t she look totally bad-ass in her black leather jacket? #ArchivistRoleModel
Riley: Where do we start?
Chase: XY is the book classification code. Stands for special collections, which means very special books.
Of course the reel librarian/archivist would figure out straight away that it’s a call number!
Note: The Library of Congress classification system generally follows the alphabet for the first part of its call number combinations, as you can see here, meaning there are potentially 26 major categories of call numbers. However, 5 of the 26 English language letters are not currently used for call number categories, being kept in “reserve” for future use. “X” is one of those letters not currently used for Library of Congress call numbers. (I, O, W, and Y are the other letters not in use.) So it could be possible, theoretically, that the Library of Congress could use the “X” category for secret collections not known to the public.
I loved how, in this screenshot below, you can spot two librarians on duty in the iconic round reference desk in the middle of the Library of Congress Reading Room. This film has both reel archivists AND reel librarians! 😀
We also get a shot of another reel librarian, or rather library assistant, opening up a back door and rolling out a library cart.
None of the reel librarians in this scene, however, recognize Chase.
Chase leads to the way to the alcove, which is labeled “Deck 7, Q-Z.”
But the book is not on the shelf, where the call number indicates it would be.
Riley: Maybe someone checked it out.
Chase: Why would he send us here if there’s no book?
Riley: He probably wanted us to get caught.
Library ladder alert! I will need to add this film to the library ladders round-up post:
Gates figures out the secret book’s secret hiding place, by use of additional clues POTUS gave him.
Trivia from IMDb.com reveals that:
The area of the Library of Congress, in which Gates finds the Book of Secrets, does not exist as an area of book shelves. These book shelves were constructed as a prop library in a previously empty balcony of the Library’s Main Reading Room, and dismantled after the scenes were shot.
And the director confirms this on the commentary track:
We also had to build this room, in the Library of Congress, true to the style of the Library of Congress. The last thing you want to do is destroy the Library of Congress. If a light falls off her, we’re gonna break a library. So the goal here was just to get this room to look like the Library of Congress.
Although the trio are being hunted down by FBI agents — because of that whole “kidnapping the President” thing — there is still time for humor.
Random FBI Agent: So Gates abducts the president, lets him go, and then heads to the Library of Congress? Why?
FBI Agent Sadusky: Maybe he wants to check out a book.
Escape from the Library of Congress:
The trio then try to elude the FBI agents on their tail. Chase leads Riley to the reference desk, where they escape down the secret stairs that lead to the basement of the Library of Congress. And OF COURSE the librarians on duty don’t notice this. Suspension of disbelief, y’all.
The two run past a circular piece of machinery, which you can see in the screenshot below, which the director revealed on the commentary track that he was fascinated by and had to include in the final film:
These are extraordinary places underneath the Library [of Congess]. Go in that door, you down stairs, there’s a whole transport system of books. I mean, look at that. That’s how books get sent around the library on these little elevators that go up and down. All right, I don’t know what that has to do with the library, but we’re shooting it.
I also loved how when the FBI agents came down the central staircase, a librarian immediately points the way to help them catch the adventurers.
Don’t mess with librarians! 😉
Reel archivist and librarian roles:
Once again, Diane Kruger’s portrayal of reel archivist Dr. Abigail Chase in this Class I film lands in the Atypical Portrayal category. She is a major character, and we see her both in and out of library and archival space, interacting with modern archival equipment. She is smart, funny, and not afraid to show her flexibility and resourcefulness when needed. She is a reel archivist role model!
The other reel archivist, the White House curator Connor (played by Ty Burrell), serves as both an Information Provider and Comic Relief. And the four other reel librarian cameos glimpsed in the Library of Congress scene all serve as Information Providers.
My personal connection to this movie:
Fun fact! During an American Library Association national conference in Washington D.C. a few years ago and a special tour the Library of Congress provided for librarians only, I actually got to go down those exact stairs and explore the basement of the Library of Congress! It’s amaaaaaaaaaaaaazing! The Library of Congress collection is actually spread out over several buildings, and they are all interconnected by the system of pulleys and conveyer belts you see in the film.
The tour guide was also a librarian who had been at the Library of Congress one of the days they filmed this scene for the film. Cool, huh? 😀
Have you seen National Treasure or its sequel, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets? Did you enjoy them and/or the major archivist role in these films? Please leave a comment and share!
- Aldred, Tania, Gordon Burr, and Eun Park. “Crossing a Librarian with a Historian: The Image of Reel Archivists.” Archivaria: The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists 66 (Fall 2008): 57–93.
- “Library of Congress Classification Outline,” Library of Congress. Accessed 10 September 2018.
- “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” via Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY SA 3.0
- National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets [dvd]. Dir. Jon Turteltaub. Perf. Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, Ed Harris. Walt Disney, 2007.
- “National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007) Trivia.” IMDb.com. Accessed 10 September 2018.
One thought on “A reel archivist returns in ‘National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets’”