Hanks and The. Big. Question.

angelsanddemonsmoviewithtomhanksI guess it all depends on your point of view and, yes, the audience for which you are writing. Still, I think it's rather interesting what the Los Angeles Times considered "The Big Question" facing superstar Tom Hanks during his work on "Angels & Demons." This movie is, of course, based on the Dan Brown book that was written before "The Da Vinci Code," but has, with some plot tweaking, been turned into a 24-meets-Vatican City sequel by director Ron Howard.

So, what was The. Big. Question?

Now, we're not talking about the Catholic Church's reaction to the film. The big questions is: was Hanks scared to wear a Speedo in one of the opening scenes of A&D?

He says no. ... (His) character, Robert Langdon, is a regular 1/4 mile a day swimmer who plays water polo.

"You can't do that in baggy shorts. It requires a Speedo," Hanks admitted. "I have no fear about the Speedo. As an actor, I've worn stupider things and actually, I've worn less as an actor on occasion. It takes a man to slap on that Speedo and say 'I'm ready to go to work.' it felt great, felt wonderful.

Admittedly, he looks great in the scene where he's on his elbows by the side of the pool. But we've seen some extended footage and we're not completely sure that is really Hank's abdomen in some of the underwater swimming scenes that prominently features a very taut belly.

Just saying ....

Maybe that is the big question in a place like Los Angeles, but I dare say that this latest collision between Brown and Rome might inspire some people in other zip codes to ask questions with a bit more weight. I'll watch the Los Angeles Times coverage closely to see if any of them get asked.

Now, I must note that I have not seen all of the movie yet, only Howard's early clips prepared for a press gig. But I know the book inside out -- from research during Da Vinci mania -- and it's crucial to stress that this is not an anti-Catholic book. No, it is a pro-liberal Catholic book, and thus, by implication, it is an anti-traditional Catholic book.

It will not give away any plot points for me to note that the most symbolic Catholic figure in the book -- a brilliant Catholic priest and liberal mystic, who also happens to be a CERN-level physicist and the father, through adoption, of the brilliant female scientist who is the heroine -- is not in the movie. Howard and members of the cast confirmed that some of the speeches that define the book's thesis are not in the movie, either.

Still, it's safe to assume that the movie, like the book, is full of brilliant, noble, nuanced, modernist Catholics and a few angry, sad, simplistic, sick traditionalist Catholics who are afraid of science and change. Want to make a prediction who ends up being a serial killer?

speedo1So here's my own version of The. Big. Question. I asked Howard and Hanks -- in a press conference setting -- what they think makes the good Catholics good and the bad Catholics bad. While answering, Hanks offered an insight or two to his own worldview (check out his take on conspiracy theories). Here's a chunk of an earlier Scripps column:

"I feel that the good and bad believers have to do with the good and bad in their deeds," said Howard. "Belief is personal and to be respected. But behavior and actions taken on behalf of those beliefs, well that's something that society has to react to when it's bad and applaud when it's good."

For example, Hanks quoted key lines in which the Swiss Guard commander aims this shot at the hero: "My church feeds the hungry and takes care of the needs of the poor. What has your church done? Oh, that's right, Mr. Langdon, you don't have one."

"This is true," noted Hanks, whose complex family history included doses of Catholicism, Mormonism, the Church of the Nazarene and several years as a Bible-toting evangelical teen-ager. "The church does feed the poor. It does take care of the hungry. It heals the sick. I think that the grace of God seems to be not only in the eye of the believer, but also in the hands of the believer."

These days, he said, he still ponders the big questions, while raising a family with his Greek Orthodox wife, actress Rita Wilson. Miracles are everywhere in daily life, he said, and it's the "mystery of it all" that continues to haunt him.

"I must say that when I go to church -- and I do go to church -- I ponder the mystery," he said. "I meditate on the, 'why?' of 'Why people are as they are,' and 'Why bad things happen to good people,' and 'Why good things happen to bad people.' ... The mystery is what I think is, almost, the grand unifying theory of all mankind."

The powers that be were not allowing follow-up questions. Thus, I was not allowed to ask the obvious question that I wanted to ask, both as a reporter and as an Orthodox Christian who cares about the meaning of words.

Hanks is a very well-read guy and likes to discuss the big ideas of culture and history. I should also note that I have never seen an actual statement from him confirming that he has joined the Greek Orthodox Church that he attends with his wife and, thus, taken the vows of a convert and entered into a life of confession and participation in the "Holy Mysteries."

Mysteries? As in sacramental and doctrinal mysteries? Do you see the question? Hanks kept using that big word -- mystery -- to describe his spiritual quest.

Now, I know that Hollywood Hanks has made public statements and taken stands that clash with Orthodox Christianity on a whole range of moral and, thus, political issues. Still, I wanted to ask: Was he saying that he ponders the "mystery" or the "Mystery"?

Just saying ....

Photos: Tom Hanks. Not Tom Hanks.

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