Damian Wyld previews the newly-released film The Golden Compass.
Come December there’s always a raft of films aimed at bored children on holidays from school. Sometimes the selection features wholesome viewing based on timeless classics.
The J.R.R. Tolkien Lord of the Rings trilogy or C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe provide some recent examples. For those old enough to watch and appreciate, these films are excellent showcases of values and provide good Christian allegory.
One film coming soon, however, should be given a wide berth. It is called The Golden Compass and is based on the book Northern Lights, part one of a trilogy by virulent English atheist Philip Pullman.
Pullman’s series, His Dark Materials, constitutes nothing less than an attempt to foist an anti-Christian philosophy onto children through the guise of a well-crafted fantasy world.
The story follows a girl called Lyra who, together with her friends, struggles against an evil religious authority called “the Magisterium”, which uses religion to maintain its power. Although not apparently mentioned by name in the new film, the book does explicitly refer to Christianity as “a very powerful and convincing mistake”.
The series concludes with the death of God, and there are such charming characters along the way as an ex-nun and some homosexual angels.
The films’ producers have made no secret of the fact that the film has been significantly watered down so as not to offend Christian viewers, no doubt to the ire of Pullman groupies who would love to see his ideas hit fertile ground in young impressionable minds.
Director Chris Weitz said that, in the books, “the Magisterium is a version of the Catholic Church gone wildly astray from its roots”, whereas the film merely portrays the Magisterium as any dogmatic organisation.
But he did not give any such spin to the potential second and third films to come: “Whereas The Golden Compass had to be introduced to the public carefully, the religious themes in the second and third books can’t be minimised without destroying the spirit of these books…
“I will not be involved with any ‘watering down’ of books two and three, since what I have been working towards the whole time in the first film is to be able to deliver on the second and third films.” (MTV Movies Blog, November 14, 2007).
The real concern, then, should be not this current film, but the likelihood that many viewers, especially children, will feel the urge to read the books on which the film is based – and go on to see the subsequent films. Rightly or wrongly, such was the case with the Harry Potter phenomenon.
Lest anyone think Pullman may have been misinterpreted in his work or in his intention, here is what he told The Sydney Morning Herald (December 13, 2003):
“I’ve been surprised by how little criticism I’ve got. Harry Potter’s been taking all the flak. I’m a great fan of J.K. Rowling, but the people – mainly from America’s Bible Belt – who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven’t got enough in their lives. Meanwhile, I’ve been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God.”
He has elsewhere openly stated that “if there is a God and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against. … As you look back over the history of the Christian church, it’s a record of terrible infamy and cruelty and persecution and tyranny.
“How they have the [expletive] nerve to go on ‘Thought for the Day’ and tell us all to be good when, given the slightest chance, they’d be hanging the rest of us and flogging the homosexuals and persecuting the witches.” (The Telegraph (UK), January 29, 2002).
Nicole Kidman, who stars in the film, has laughably sought to hose down religious concerns saying that “the Catholic Church is part of my essence. I wouldn’t be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic”.
This film, however, represents more than an attack on Catholicism or a broader one on Christianity. The Nietzsche-like death of God is an assault on all understanding of faith or the supernatural. It is yet another barb in the many-pronged attack of secularism.
As with other films of this ilk (such as the fancifully ridiculous Da Vinci Code), there is always a risk of assisting the film by drawing extra attention to it. The Catholic League in America, on the other hand, has already claimed victory in its boycott of the film, with opening weekend takings a mere US$26.1 million (compared with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe‘s US$65.5 million).
Extra publicity for the film aside, when the faith of many, particularly children, is targeted in such a deliberate, calculating manner, parents really have no alternative other than to arm themselves with the facts and find some good alternatives – perhaps reading Tolkien’s The Hobbit and hanging out for Prince Caspian, the next C.S. Lewis “Narnia” film, due to arrive in May 2008.
– previewed by Damian Wyld.