Thursday, November 29, 2007

Of Living Lions and Golden Compasses

Of Living Lions and Golden Compasses
Kevin Shrum

The cinematic release of Philip Pullman’s, The Golden Compass, is due in American theaters December 5th. I will see the movie. The movie is based upon Pullman’s first book in his trilogy known as His Dark Materials. It tells the story of a young girl’s (Lyra) heroic search for her lost friend, assisted by mysterious characters and powerful creatures. In the end, the ‘god-like’ figure of the story is killed.

Pullman’s story is similar to C.S. Lewis’ allegorical tale of Christianity, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, except from a differing perspective, exposing the dark and sinister nature of humanity and the corruption of authoritative systems. Pullman’s tale appears to be anti-structural, anti-authority and has been, by some, viewed to be anti-god.

William A. Donohue, President of the Catholic League, has called for a boycott of the movie arguing that it denigrates Christianity and promotes atheism for kids. Pullman has not helped his cause by making some statements that would tend to fortify the belief that he is anti-church at best and anti-god at worst.

What are we to make of the hullabaloo surrounding this movie? Is The Golden Compass simply a good fairy tale that should be placed in the same category as other classic tales of adventure? Or, is it a sinister attempt to undermine the idea of God?

Let’s bring some sobriety to the issue. It’s a movie. I understand that we live in a day when some have difficulty separating reality from fantasy, but let’s remember that it’s entertainment. Yes, entertainment with a message, but entertainment nonetheless.

As entertainment, a movie ought to rank low on our list of world-shaping, idea-forming influences. This may sound naïve in a culture that is entertainment driven. Entertainment is non-reality, it is meant to be a form of escapism at best. For roughly two hours the viewer suspends his disbelief and lives in another world, fantasy or otherwise. But the movie ends, the lights come up and we return to the real.

I enjoyed Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but it’s not scripture. And I will probably enjoy Pullman’s The Golden Compass. And after having seen the movie the lights will come up, I’ll return to my car and drive back into reality. Why? Because it’s entertainment!

We Christians tend to get faddishly upset by the entertainment world. Remember the movie The Last Temptation of Christ? God survived it and the church is strong world-wide. Is the entertainment industry often crude and God-forsaken? Of course! But the greatest way to belittle the entertainment industry is to recognize it for what it is: monied promoters financing actors and actresses playing make-believe parts and reading lines in artificial settings with unrealistic expectations.

And that’s the reason I enjoy some movies. It’s a moment of artificiality and escape from what is real. But it soon ends and life goes on.

And what about the killing of God and the atheistic tendencies of the story and the movie? Well, that’s the real entertainment. People, governments, philosophers, artisans and even some theologians have been attempting to kill God and His church for centuries but to no avail. Why? Because after the viewer suspends her belief system for a moment of cinematic entertainment the lights come up and she must walk right back into the reality that God is not dead.