Monday, December 10, 2007

A Golden Review

This past weekend, Hitch and I went to go see the controversial new fantasy film, The Golden Compass, based on the novel Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, the first book in the author's His Dark Materials trilogy. Knowing ahead of time the author's atheistic worldview and intent, but not having read the book itself, made the experience an interesting one.

I like to start off talking about the things I liked, and there were many things about the movie to like. Nicole Kidman did a great job playing the icy villain Mrs. Coulter (any possible relation to Ann, I wonder?) The visual effects were awesome. The world of The Golden Compass is full of airships, pirates, ice castles, semi-Victorian architecture, witches, gypsies, you-name-it. It's a joyful fantasy world, and the film did a good job of rendering it beautifully and realistically.

Also, filmmakers are just getting better and better at making talking animals, and watching The Golden Compass makes that clear. In the film, every humans soul is on the outside of their body, represented by an animal spirit called a "daemon." So, in every scene you would not only have actors, but an equal number of CGI dogs, birds, wolves, foxes, cats, hares, etc. The great thing is that the filmmakers did this exceptionally well, and by the end of the movie you really don't notice anymore, and you wonder why everyone around you doesn't have a daemon with them. I like the concept of daemons, and on the movie website (linked in the first paragraph), you can take a personality quiz to determine what kind of daemon you would have. Turns out mine is a female chimpanzee named Azaria. Cool. :)

Now... On to the bad. Aside from the controversial stuff, there was a lot of stuff in the movie that bothers me about movies in general today. Sure, there were a few admirable performances (Kidman was great, and Daniel Craig was good as well, but he had far less screen time than advertised), but most of the actors were just a little over the top. I don't mind it so much from Dakota Blue Richards, who plays the young heroine Lyra, but from everyone else I just found far too much drama, and all that did was make the movie a little hokey for me after a short while. Hokey is not always a bad thing, of course, but when you consider some of the serious matter of the film (not to mention a particularly violent scene) it just comes across as inappropriate.

... And then there's the religious stuff. Like I said, I have not read the books. I've read a few articles on Wikipedia but even they don't necessarily show how anti-Christian the books themselves are. The movie itself did not really portray anything anti-Christian in itself. The Catholic Church, which is the villainous organisation of the books, is called an alternate title in the film: "The Magisterium." God is simply called "The Authority," and in the film there is no mention of the Authority being a God-like figure at all. For all we know as viewers, he could be a living man hiding in the shadows like the Emperor from Star Wars. There are no references to church, prayer, worship, or anything religious. When Mrs. Coulter (who, needless to say, works for the Magisterium) explains what it does, she simply says, "It tells people what's best for them." It's sad that that is all some people view religions as, but it is a valid point to criticise the Church for being legalistic. I'm all about that.

I guess I would be careful about taking an impressionable child to see the film, not because there is anything too anti-Christian in the movie itself, but because by all accounts (including Pullman's himself) the books are an atheistic answer to C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. As someone who is somewhat mature in my faith (I hope) I think I could read them to understand Pullman's views and not be tempted into believing his message. However, if I was younger, it could be different. I almost turned atheist after reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and though I still think it's a great book, I don't like how it made me doubt my faith. Then again, a faith that has gone untested could be weak at times. I just don't think it's okay for the entertainment industry to actively try to test people's faith. Let them do it on their own. It usually works out better that way. :)

Oh, and just to make people jealous...

It's December 10. Christmas is 15 days away. And today, Hitch, myself, and my roommates all went to the beach. It was sunny, gorgeous, and a lovely mid-70 degree temperature outside. I love North Carolina... and maybe even Global Warming?


Mephibosheth said...

It's crazy warm here, too--83 degrees in North Florida today! But I'm 45 minutes from the beach and had to work--not that I go much anyway.

In Catholicism, the collective teaching authority of the pope and the bishops IS referred to as the Magisterium, so many Catholics see a more direct attack on our faith than might be apparent to other Christians.

Jay said...

Well, then I guess I learn something every day then. I can definitely understand why Catholics are the ones who seem most outraged by the movie, then.

Charlotte said...

Hi. I agree with you that The Golden Compass is awesome. The visual effects are fantastic and all the actors did a great job. I personally think Dakota Blue is quite talented, seeing that this is her debut film.

Brandon said...

Hey Jay,

I took that personality quiz and it turns out I'm a female wildcat named Verian. Being from Kentucky, that seems to suit me just fine.

I've not seen the movie yet, but I'm hoping to. Glad to hear it was good.


tilts_at_windmills said...

I'll give you my take on the issue from the opposite perspective. I grew up in a non-believing family, and a big chunk of my childhood was spent reading Narnia, LOTR, and Madeleine L'Engle. I don't think my parents realized how very Christian those books were, so we never talked about what they meant, or how it related to their own beliefs. It was just a part of my world. And you know what? I still grew up to be an atheist. If one book can bring a person's entire world view crashing down, then his world view had lousy foundations and it needed to go.

If I have kids, I'll gladly pass on Narnia et al., even though I disagree with their religious underpinnings. I think it's all for the good that children hear different points of view as early as possible--they'll be doing it the rest of their lives, so they might as well get used to it. Good ideas thrive in conflict, bad ideas die. If Christianity can only keep children in the fold by denying them knowledge of other philosophies, that strikes me as an indictment of Christianity.

On a different note, I think the critique of Christianity in HDM makes a LOT more sense if you read it in the context of the Romantic response to Paradise Lost-- Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in particular. As I'm reading HDM I keep thinking how unspeakably weird the whole quest to kill God must seem to a reader who doesn't know this is part of a literary conversation.

Anonymous said...

"I almost turned atheist after reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and though I still think it's a great book, I don't like how it made me doubt my faith."

Translation: I don't like how it caused me to think for myself.

Jay said...

Charlotte: Yeah, that's why I was giving her a pass on the over-drama. She's young and I think she has a nice career shaping up for her.

Brandon: Yeah, I was hoping for some kind of bird, but chimp works fine for me as well. Enjoy the movie!

Tilts: Oh, I am all for faith being challenged. Avoiding something because you might disagree is most certainly immature. Like I said, the movie could be used as a springboard discussion about what constitutes good faith (belief and repentance in Christ) and what constitutes bad faith (simply following what your church tells you to do).

Anonymous: Nice drive-by comment there. :-\

Actually, I did like how Atlas Shrugged got me to come to my own conclusions about my faith, as opposed to simply following what I was being told. I don't like how it said that belief in God and subsequent altruism were the root of all evil. As for thinking for myself, even Ayn Rand wasn't a big fan of that. From all accounts, she only wanted people to think for themselves if by doing so they arrived at the same conclusions as her.