Come back, Dan Brown, all is forgiven

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WHY did we walk all the way from the New Town to the Edinburgh Odeon without reading the goddamned movie reviews first? Are we so stupid? I guess we must be. It has been years since either Barbara or I was at a film so bad that we felt we had to just get up and walk out of the cinema. Great God in heaven, is The Oxford Murders ever baaaad.

How bad is it? Kevin Maher said in Times Online (only we failed to read it beforehand): "Imagine The Da Vinci Code remade by a philosophy student, set mostly in Oxford bedsits and starring Elijah Wood in the Tom Hanks role, and featuring the world's most unerotic sex scene…" Kevin has been there.

And since he mentions The Da Vinci Code, let me say that I hereby repent — I retract and repudiate all of the harsh words I have uttered about the writing in the works of that fine novelist, the excellent Dan Brown. I did see the movie version of The Da Vinci Code, on a plane, and let me tell you, the writing in The Oxford Murders is much, much, much worse. I am not sure that the English language has appropriate words or phrases to express it…

Perhaps if I were to say that the film is utterly pathetic vapid awkward boring pig-ignorant pretentious ridiculous patronizing slop, it might stir in you some dim inkling of the depth of uselessness of this toxic piece of cinematographic excrement. But that would be understatement, and I hate to understate. This movie has a badness value that cries out for new numbers to be invented. Ten on a scale of ten is nowhere near enough.

Barbara and I eventually reconciled ourselves to the fact that in buying our tickets we had sent about twenty dollars to a place from which it would never return, and agreed that walking home and talking to each other would be much more interesting than struggling on with the film-watching. And our topic as we walked home was a linguistic one: What exactly was the line of dialog that should have first alerted us to the fact that we were going to have to write off our twenty bucks and the whole cinematic evening? For it was almost entirely the dialog that stuck in our respective craws.

Was it when the burly mustachioed detective said "Let me see if I've got this straight…", and proceeded to try and figure out that he was being told that the serial murderer was going to strike again?

Was it when Professor Arthur Seldom (played by John Hurt) said "I doubt if Heisenberg would have agreed" and Martin the graduate student (Elijah Wood) perked up and asked, "The physicist?" (No, you dork; Luther Heisenberg, the lawnmower repair guy in the village.) Surely we should have left earlier than that bit.

Maybe the bit where Kurt Gödel's name comes up, and the professor and the student fumble around and utterly fail to separate the concepts of (i) falsity, (ii) unprovability, (iii) incompleteness, (iv) paradoxicality, (v) improbability, and (vi) unknowability?

No, before that; when Elijah stands up to interrupt a lecture about there being no certain truth and says "I believe in the number pi." That is where we should have stood up and said "I believe my partner and I are going to leave this cinema and walk home."

But no, it should have been earlier still, when Professor Seldom says early in an awful, ponderous, hyper-theatrical lecture (why is it that no convincing-looking snatch of an academic lecture has ever appeared in a mainstream film?) that Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus poses the question "Can we know the truth?" (the Tractatus says nothing at all about this epistemological question; it just doesn't deal with epistemology). Barbara, who teaches Wittgenstein, was rolling her eyes even at that early stage, but hoping it was just a passing slip. I was developing a very bad feeling about our whole movie outing, within about ten minutes of the opening credits — that strange phenomenon when your body knows something awful is happening before your brain figures it out.

We should never have gone to the Odeon. I cannot describe for you the chaos of pseudo-intellectual bungled mathematical and philosophical allusions that screenwriters Jorge Guerricaechevarria and Alex de la Iglesia have packed into the appalling script of The Oxford Murders (drawing, I assume, on similar drivel in the book by Argentinian mathematician-turned-novelist Guillermo Martínez). It lives in a realm beyond dreadfulness, a realm beneath The Da Vinci Code. Do I even need to tell you about the unmotivated and inexpertly characterized love interest in the plot? The two women who are apparently unable to see that while Elijah Wood was believable as a hobbit he is out of his depth as a babbling mathematics student (and his eyes are beginning to look dangerously insane)? No. It is unnecessary.

The U.S. release date for this crock of sewage is so far unknown, but I will warn you now (paraphrasing a character in The Hound of the Baskervilles), as you value your life or your reason (or your $20), stay away from The Oxford Murders. Oh, and ignore everything I ever said about Dan Brown. Dan is just fine.

[Added later: There's nothing new under the sun. John Cowan pointed out to me a blog post on the Broadway World site with a relevant anecdote about Robert Benchley that I had not previously encountered. Benchley was a theater critic and founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. He was at the opening night performance of Jean Bart's 1926 Broadway play The Squall in his theater critic role. Suzanne Caubet, playing a gypsy girl who speaks in a cartoonish pidgin English, had just uttered the line: "Me Nubi. Nubi good girl. Nubi stay." Benchley rose to his feet and muttered: "Me Benchley. Benchley bad boy. Benchley go." And go he did. Sometimes a line of dialog will do that to you.]

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