I hope you are all as safe and healthy as you can be during this pandemic holiday season. I, for one, find myself watching a lot of crappy movies and TV lately — you know the kind, the ones you can have on in the background and watch with one eye and one-quarter of your brain while you do other things. I find this soothing to my emotional and mental state during these pandemic times. And this is how I happened to recently rewatch the movie version of The Da Vinci Code, which was released in 2006. The film is based on Dan Brown’s 2003 bestseller novel. The film, directed by Ron Howard, stars Tom Hanks as the intrepid researcher and incessant mansplainer Robert Langdon, Audrey Tautou as French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu, and Sir Ian McKellen as British historian Sir Leigh Teabingas.
Here’s a trailer for the movie:
Both the book and the movie caused lots of controversy and were banned in several countries for its depiction of the Catholic Church and various conspiracy theories (see my 2017 post about banned reel librarian movies). I had read the book when it came out — a fact my loving spouse does not let me forget — and I chuckled at how McKellen described the experience of reading it:
“While I was reading the book, I believed it entirely. Clever Dan Brown twisted my mind convincingly. But when I put it down, I thought, ‘What a load of… potential codswallop.'”From The Guardian, 2005
You said it, McKellen!
The movie version is 100% codswallop. I do not think this is a spoiler.
Research scene in the movie version
I had honestly forgotten about the story’s library research scene until I rewatched it. (And then I got cranky, because it meant I had to pause what I was doing and ACTUALLY start paying attention to the movie. All for the love of reel librarians! I often watch bad movies so you do not have to. 😉 )
At 1 hour and 40 minutes into the 2 1/2 hour-long film, Langdon and Neveu are in London on the quest to find the Holy Grail. As you do. Langdon then says these magical words:
I have to get to a library, fast.
And… then the film slows down as they find themselves sitting on a bus. Having nothing to mansplain about, Robert complains about the wait.
Langdon: We’re at least a half hour to Chelsea Library. If we’re going to help Leigh, that’s too long.
Neveu looks around the bus and spots a young man with a cell phone.
Langdon: Where are you going?
Neveu: Getting you a library card.
I had to groan aloud at this one and roll my eyes. OK, Sophie.
She then flirts with the young man, and Robert borrows the cell phone.
Langdon: Let’s see if we can access the database on this.
Next, Langdon pulls up a search engine called quicksolver.net — a search engine is NOT the same thing as a database, y’all!!!, and yes, I yelled this at the screen — and narrates what he is thinking and typing in:
“In London lies a knight a Pope interred.” Compounding keywords: London, knight, pope, grail.
Langdon seems confused by the search results. The young man glances at the screen, and says:
There’s your problem, mate. It’s your basic linguistic coincidence. See, keywords keep coming up with the writings of some bloke named Alexander Pope.
That provides a clue to Langdon, and they’re off and running to the next locale.
My random thoughts after watching this scene:
- Who says things like “Compounding keywords” or “It’s your basic linguistic coincidence”? Oh, that’s right, NO ONE. Not even librarians.
- There’s no other library closer than a half-hour bus ride away? That seems unlikely to me in a city like London. (If there are any London dwellers reading this blog post, please leave a comment and let me know if this is realistic or not!)
- Is Chelsea Library a real library in London? (I looked that up and yes: It’s a library in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and it’s located at Chelsea Old Town Hall, London, King’s Road.)
- I appreciate the focus in this scene is on keywords and how they’re critical to research success. That does ring true for me.
- Again, search engines (e.g. Google) are not the same things as library databases. I have to teach students this all the time, and go through examples of when it’s a good strategy to try search engines vs. when it’s better to try searching in library databases. You would think a professor and professional mansplainer like Robert Langdon would know the difference.
- It was fun to see a young man teach Langdon something for once!
My husband also asked me if I was having fun watching this scene, considering how many times I had to pause the movie and yell at the screen. (Side discussion: Is it possible to have fun watching this tedious a film? 😉 ) But I don’t actually have a problem with the concept of using a cell phone for research. I use my cell phone for research all the time. But the movie makes an either/or fallacy, that cell phones replace libraries and librarians, instead of enhancing access to research or library resources. Sometimes, you really do need to go to a library to access specific resources; sometimes you need the guidance of an actual librarian; and sometimes, doing a quick search on your cell phone will suffice for your real-life research needs. You CAN have it both ways. Alas, there is no room for such nuance in this movie. More’s the pity.
This research scene on the bus lasts 3 minutes. There is no actual librarian present for this research scene, although one could argue that the young man on the bus serves a similar function in this scene. This movie lands in the Class V category of films, which are films with no identifiable librarians and/or archivists, although there is a research scene and/or scenes set in libraries.
Research scene in the original book
Now let’s revisit the research scene in Dan Brown’s original book. Langdon and Neveu do visit the King’s College Library (not the Chelsea Library) in chapters 92 and 95, because there is a special religious research database available in that specific library. (Side note: There are still lots of specialized databases that are only available to use on-site in a library. Brown gets this detail right.) Librarian Pamela Gettum — a librarian gets a name, y’all! — helps them with the database, and she shares that they get a lot of Grail hunters at the library. Search results that come up with Sir Isaac Newton lead the researchers to the Alexander Pope clue.
There are 105 chapters plus an epilogue in the original book, so the library research scene happens quite late in the book’s storyline. In the movie version, however, there is still almost an hour of screen time remaining after the research scene!
Revisiting the purpose of the librarian character in the book, she gets to be helpful, plus she has the opportunity to inject a bit of humor into the story by (gently) making fun of all the Grail hunters that pass through the library. There is no room for such humor in the research scene on the bus.
So why did the library scene in the book get switched out for a cell phone in the movie? According to the IMDb.com Trivia page for this movie, the director Ron Howard actually DID want to film inside the King’s College Library, at the main Maughan Library’s dodecagonal reading room. However, the college did not agree to close off a section of its library for the scene to be filmed.
Here’s what we missed out on:
Yeah…. a cell phone is just not the same.
Is that why even the name of the library got changed in the final research scene? Remember, Langdon mentions “Chelsea Library” when they’re on the bus, not “Maughan Library” or “King’s College Library.” I’m thinking that library name change was Ron Howard’s revenge?
What are your thoughts on this library and librarian switcheroo in the movie version of The Da Vinci Code? Had you also forgotten about the research scene on the bus? Please leave a comment and share!
And please take care out there, and make sure you remember your face mask, hand sanitizer… and cell phone, in case you need to do some quick research. 😉
- Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code. Doubleday, 2003.
- The Da Vinci Code. Dir. Ron Howard. Perf. Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno. Columbia, 2006. Based on the novel by Dan Brown.
- “The Da Vinci Code (2006): Trivia.” Internet Movie Database, n.d.
- “The Da Vinci Code (film)” via Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.
- Higgins, Charlotte. “Fans out in force for Da Vinci premiere – but even kinder reviews are scathing.” The Guardian. 18 May 2006.
- “Maughan Library” via Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.