Original air date: January 10, 2022
John Oliver discusses The Da Vinci Code: the book, the film, and, for some reason, the cultural phenomenon.
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Hello there internet. Uh, I’m John Oliver. Our show is on hiatus right now so I’m coming to you straight from YouTube, the world’s most dystopian video hellscape before… TikTok.
I’m here because I want to talk about something near and dear to my… let’s say heart, and that is The Da Vinci Code, the 2003 Dan Brown novel about solving art crimes hornerly and the subsequent 2006 Ron Howard film that it spawned.
And believe me, I already know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking “I’m riveted and I don’t need an explanation as to why you’re talking about this book 18 years after its release.” I think it’s normal and good that you are doing this and I assume that your take on it will be measured and fair. “John,” you think, “John,” you continue to think, “John you’re doing great please keep going.” Thank you. I am. And I will.
My chief gripe with this book and movie is with the maddeningly simple solution to the titular puzzle. But before we go it all in on that, I do think it is important to quickly cover the plot — or maybe not important, but I’m going to do it anyway because this is free content on YouTube, which means the only bar that needs to be cleared when deciding whether or not something gets in is “do I feel like talking about this,” and when it comes to wasting your time with the plot of The Da Vinci Code, Johnny’s answer to that is a big sloppy yes. So, let’s do this thing! Hold on, you don’t know what you’re getting into yet.
Very basically, here is the plot. Um, an old man named Jacques Saunière is murdered in the Louvre and with his dying breath leaves a series of art-related puzzles that only renowned symbologist — not a job by the way — Robert Langdon can solve. Clues that will uncover a world-changing secret about Jesus Christ that the catholic church has kept buried for centuries. Now teamed up with Saunière’s granddaughter Sophie and on the run from both Interpol and a radical sect of Catholicism plus one assassin that would like to keep this secret buried at all costs. Robert Langdon is in a race against time to travel all across Europe and solve art puzzles before it’s too late. The titular puzzle corresponds to a cryptex which holds a map to some important evidence. Along the way there are some double crossing by Langton’s former friend an excruciating amount of long-winded history lessons at least one sexual ritual and Paul Bettany’s ass, but that is very basically the plot of The Da Vinci Code. Essentially Robert Langton was the only guy smart and horny enough to solve a bunch of art puzzles the last of which will uncover documents proving that Jesus Christ was married and had a child.
And at this point I do feel it’s important for me to tell anyone watching this at home that the studio audience did not sign up to be here for this. They thought that they were attending a normal taping of this show and not what up to this point has been a mostly jokeless summary of the plot of 2003’s The Da Vinci Code. If you’re sensing any kind of tension in their confused tepid and sometimes irritated responses just know you’re probably right. They’re not even allowed to look at their phones, and they won’t be able to do that for a while. So let’s continue.
And I’m going to get to the puzzle part in a second, but to understand why it makes me so mad some context, if you are too young to remember what the world was like when The Da Vinci Code came out, first of all die. Second though it is hard to overstate just how huge this book about using art to solve crimes and piss off the church was. It spent 136 consecutive weeks as a New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller, it sold more than 80 million copies worldwide, and was translated into 51 languages.
But look these are just numbers if I’ve learned anything from The Da Vinci Code and believe me I haven’t it’s that numbers can’t tell us anything.
The point here is The Da Vinci Code book was massively inescapably successful and had a major impact on culture at the time and the good news is we are now just now arriving at my solo point because none of this success would really bother me that much if it were not for the fact that the cryptic at the heart of The Da Vinci Code, the puzzle art throb Robert Langdon has to solve involves a poem that begins:
In London lies a knight a Pope interred.
His labor’s fruit a Holy wrath incurred.
Now we quickly find out the knight in question is sir Isaac Newton. So Isaac Newton, labour’s fruit, you’re thinking apple, right? apple it’s your first guess and it’s also your only guess and you’re right because it’s f*cking apple. No one should need Robert Langdon a Harvard educated puzzle solver who f*cks to get to the bottom of this. A child could solve that puzzle and yet the poem continues:
You seek the orb the ought be on his tomb.
It speaks of Rosy flesh and seeded womb.
so orb rosy flesh seeds it’s apple is it it’s apple guess how many pages there are between that poem and the solution to the puzzle I’ll give you a clue: it’s a lot more than one!
Both the book and the movie make it seem like only the brilliant Robert Langton could possibly decode the mystery behind those complex words.
Here is the scene in the movie version where he explains the solution like he’s Indiana Jones finding the Ark of the f*cking Covenant to a speechless and awestruck Amelie:
There was every orb conceivable on that tomb except one: the orb which fell from the heavens and inspired Newton’s life’s work. Work that incurred the wrath of the church until his dying day.
F*cking sh*t! I hate that he spells it out so much my dad told me this book was good everybody’s dad did!!! Did you know they made two Da Vinci Code movies well they didn’t because guess what they made f*cking three!!!
And I recognize that it has been several minutes since I’ve said anything that could defensively can be considered either relevant or a joke and if that bothers you at all let me simply remind you you don’t have to be here these people do. They cannot leave! But you could have stopped watching this 10 minutes ago but no you chose not to so don’t be angry with me be angry with yourself, you let yourself down, I’m doing fine.
And look is this the most important story in the world right now of course not of course not it’s at best the fourth most important story. I just genuinely think that it is very weird that in 2003 this stupid, stupid book took the planet by storm. And I just think enough time has passed that we can talk about it now it was bad and it was weird and the titular code was apple a-p-p-l-e.
Now, what was my point here. Am I trying to suggest that our brief but intense obsession with The Da Vinci Code was a metaphor, something indicative of our dangerous propensity for getting swept up by comfortingly simple ideas lulling us into a sort of group thing. No, not really. I just think this book is f*cking bad.
I think, actually the best way to express my frustration is in the language that The Da Vinci Code enthusiasts can best understand, which is to say with a subtle art related puzzle that an infant can figure out. Will you please indulge me. Um, my problem with The Da Vinci Code, separate from the fact that it is a terrible book that absorbed the entire post-911 world for no clear reason is a mystery. A mystery hidden somewhere in this famous painting, a mystery that only could be solved by a Robert Langdon level genius/art noticer. Do you see it? Take your time… can you solve this puzzle? Can you solve this complex puzzle and unlock why I think The Da Vinci Code is so f*cking stupid? It’s subtle, but it’s in there, the dumbest thing about The Da Vinci Code and art all rolled into one. Sound off in the comments below if you’ve solved this complex riddle.
In the meantime thank you so much for watching, that’s our show, we’ll be back in February, we’ll see you again then apple.
Apple. A-p-p-l-e. F*cking apple.