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The 'Da Vinci' woes

Q. Why did you refer to the novel The Da Vinci Code as a "preposterous" work of fiction, yet fail to label the Bible as such? Do you honestly believe the Bible is a work of non-fiction? Aren't parts of the Bible "preposterous"? If your devotion to institutionalized religion colors your ability to write logically, perhaps you should recuse yourself from reviewing films that require an unbiased view.

Fred Schultz, Dallas

A. The job of a critic is to express an opinion. If critics recused themselves from reviewing anything on which they held an opinion, there would be no criticism. The purpose of my review of "The Da Vinci Code" was not to review the Bible but to review the film adaptation of a novel.

Even doing that made some readers unhappy. Here is Lara Coates of Kennewick, Wash.: "Maybe you should stick to reviewing the movie instead of reviewing and insulting people who might entertain the ideas that Dan Brown suggests. Although Brown's suggestions may be preposterous, as you suggest, there is no way for anyone to know exactly what happened during Jesus' time. I guarantee you that I am of 'sound mind' even though I question the validity of the Bible."

Ebert again: Some of the material on which Brown's book is based did not originate in the time of Jesus, but is a French forgery from the 1950s. "60 Minutes" did a segment about that.

Q. One of the great ironies of Dan Brown's book is that it assaults you with its greatest piece of idiocy before you've even picked it up. The man's name is Leonardo, please. "da Vinci" (note the lower-case "d"), is NOT his family name, it's his hometown. He was born in Vinci, Italy, in 1452, in a time before Europeans had started surnaming themselves. Brown's error is on par with writing a book on the life of Christ called The Of Nazareth Code, or assuming St. Joan was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. "Of Arc." It's amazing that anyone could take seriously the historical claims of a work whose title screams out, "penned by an historical ignoramus!"

C.J.E. Culver

A. We have a policy at the Answer Man that all writers must provide the name of their home town, but in your case, I'm making an exception.

Q. No one in Michael Haneke's "Caché" made those videotapes. The culprit is us, the viewing audience. There's even a scene early in the film where Georges tries to figure out where the camera could have been, and can't figure out how he could have walked right past it without seeing it. That's because from his perspective, the camera wasn't "there" at all. I took the film as a commentary on how voyeuristic our society has become. Whenever the movie switches to the videotape point of view, we stare, waiting for what's going to happen. We become the voyeurs. I usually don't go off on crazy theories like this, but you can't take the movie literally. You mention that it doesn't make sense that the two boys would be talking in the last shot; why couldn't they know each other from school? They could even be unaware of who each others' father is.

Kevin McMillen, Rochester, N.Y.

A. "Cache" is the movie people will not stop devising theories about, and although I've discussed it several times in the Answer Man, the subject is apparently not closed. I'm at the Cannes Film Festival, where I got into a discussion of "Cache" with the director William Friedkin. He told me: "I was talking to Barbet Schroeder, one of the producers on the film, and he said that after Haneke screened it, everybody told him he was crazy, because 99 percent of the audience would never see those two obscure kids in the upper left hand corner of the final shot. So he re-edited it, put in a closer shot so you could see it was them, and put in the dialogue of what they were saying to each other. Then his psychiatrist in Vienna told him, 'No, no! Do it the way you wanted!' So he took all that stuff out again."

What were the kids saying? I asked.

"That," Friedkin said, "I don't know."

Q. I'm always amazed at the irrational nature of the debate on medical care. In your review of "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," you state, "At least in Romania he is not asked for his insurance company, and he has a theoretical right to free medical care." In the next sentence you quote a Romanian doctor who discusses the horrible condition of medical care in his country. Isn't it obvious that when something is "free" for everyone, it will be inadequate for everyone? Do people get left behind in a medical system that involves free enterprise? Of course they do. But when you have a system where personal responsibility plays no part, you certainly get the system you deserve. I for one am glad that I get asked for proof of insurance when I show up at a hospital. It annoys me that people who cannot do so get treated at my expense anyway.

Jeff Grant, Centreville, Va.

A. The hospitals are always looking for volunteers. Maybe you could help them turn away sick poor people.

Q. Read your review of "Hate Crime" and disagree when you say the movie presents a portrait of fundamentalists that does not reflect many of them. I live in Dallas and I know very few Southern Baptists who do not think gays are going straight to hell. Unfortunately, this includes some members of my family. I sadly do not think that the Pastor Boyd character was overplayed.

Mike Schermer, Dallas

A. In my review, I wrote in part: "Yes, there are plenty of fundamentalists who believe homosexuals are on the highway to hell. But there are other fundamentalists, a great many more, I believe, who are gentle and humane, positive and well-meaning, and although I may disagree with many of their beliefs, well, there are a lot of religious beliefs in the world and most people disagree with most of them."

I received dozens of letters telling me this statement was naive, and not a single letter in support of it. Here is Elaine Wood of Louisville, Ky.: "Having been raised in that fundamentalist 'we're right and everyone else is wrong,' hate-mongering environment, I was subjected to ministers like the 'Pastor Boyd' character repeatedly -- until I refused to return to church when he tried to molest me as a teenager. This character is an accurate composite of many 'God-fearing' (as opposed to God-loving) tyrants. Are there less-lethal fundamentalists? Sure, but I've yet to encounter one who wasn't determined to 'fix' me, regardless of my spiritual beliefs, faith and church membership. I saw the movie not as a statement about homosexuality (what other people do in the privacy of their homes is none of my business), but as a wake-up call for reducing judgment, bigotry and intolerance."

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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