I finally got to see “Chronicles of Narnia” this weekend. (We don’t get out much.)
I have to say that I would have loved the movie if I wasn’t quite familiar with the Bible and somewhat familiar with C.S. Lewis’ writings.
With the exception of some special effects it was quite well produced. (The effects ran the gamut from simply incredible to rubber-doll syndrome.) The acting was quite good, especially from the kids. The script was well written… to a point. And that’s the point where my enjoyment of the movie was ruined by obtuse beat-you-over-the-head allegory. “Allegory” may imply more subtlety than the movie actually incorporated.
In the movie’s defense, it was true to the letter and spirit of the book. Good for it. But even when I read the book as a kid years ago, I was struck by how heavy the Christian allusions and metaphors were. (Of course at that time I loved it, now I find it tedious.)
Actually, if the Christian allegory was the only problem, I think I’d be OK with it. There’s nothing wrong with allegory, and skillfully done, allegory is a wonderful and entertaining literary technique. (Although I wonder if this was the book that made Lewis’ friend, Tolkien, state publicly and emphatically that he hated allegory.) It does make me wonder how some people who have watched the movie have come away curious why people say it was filled with Christian allegory. It’s obvious that those people, if they’ve had any at all, have only experienced Christianity at most through childhood Sunday School.
There’s the very obvious references to “sons of Adam” and “daughter’s of Eve,” and of course Asland’s sacrifice and resurrection. But during the last third of the movie just about every scene had religious allusion. Like the evil White Witch proclaiming that the life of a traitor belongs to her, and she requires blood as is put down in the “old law” and “as is tradition.” Oh my God, if that’s not heavy-handed reference to Hebrew Law. And then Asland’s post-resurrection reveal that if she truely understood the meaning of the old law she’d have realized the true meaning of sacrifice. And who can forget Asland’s line “It is finished”? It was hard for me not to roll my eyes. And then more subtleties like having “Peter” as the human (son of Adam) leader of Asland’s kingdom. (The first Pope, anyone?)
But like I said, allegory alone would have been OK. I would actually have probably been more annoyed if Lewis (and the film makers) had tried to sneak Christian allegory into the story. That would have felt like some kind of subversive attempt. Being so blatant and obvious, it feels more entertaining. And like, oh my! like what Dan Brown has done with “The Da Vinci Code.” Take a story, a setting, a plot, a theme, and then work it into a new narrative fiction story. Of course, Lewis does it with more skill and entertainment than Brown did with his potboiler.
My main problem comes as a personal issue I have with Lewis, and not the movie itself, which makes it quite unfair of me to blame the movie for whatever lack of enjoyment I had of it due to something not its fault. It’s my annoyance at Lewis’ non-fiction writings, mainly “Mere Christianity.” Early in the film when the older two kids are discussing with their host, the Professor, their youngest sibling’s stories of having been to this Narnia place inside the wardrobe, the professor poses to them, “Well, if she’s not mad, she must be either lying or… the alternative.” Or something like that. And I groaned greatly on the inside when I heard that and couldn’t pay attention to the movie for like the next minute or two.
That was basically Lewis’ “trilemma” poser regarding the validity of Jesus’ divinity. He states in “mere Christianity”, to paraphrase, if the the prophesies are true, than what Jesus said about his fulfilling them makes him insane, lying, or telling the truth. And it’s best for the concept of absolute morality that he’s telling the truth because if he’s not it negates everything Jesus says about morality. The problem is, the trilemma, as I discuss in earlier blog: Trilemma Delimma, that reasoning fails on two counts. a) Just because one thing someone says may be wrong, does not make everything that person says is wrong. For example, the Pope believes he’s the divinely ordained voice of God on Earth. Non-Catholics don’t believe this. So, even if the Pope is completely wrong about that, does that mean EVERYTHING else he says about morality and behavior and righteousness is wrong?! And b) It assumes that the Bible is 100% accurate, when that can’t be proven. We don’t have any 1st-hand accounts of what Jesus said. We don’t even have original copies of the Gospel writings. What we have are copies of copies of stories written by people who weren’t there. Well, there’s some debate whether, I think it was Matthew and Luke, were there or not at the events. Even so, we don’t have their original writings, and even so, we can’t be certain that they themselves got down exactly what was said. So any statement of absoluteness based on what Jesus said is suspect because the source of the “recording” is suspect.
Anyway, after things like that, it made it hard to enjoy the movie. And again when Asland tells Peter that there is an absolute power greater than even him which governs right and wrong, it’s a statement right out of “Mere Christianity.” (Oh yeah, back to allegory, Asland states that he was present at the writing of the “old law,” harking back to the Christian belief that Jesus is Logos and was around at the creation of/is “The Word.”) And so Lewis’ infusion of his philosophy made the movie annoying.
Again, I can’t fault the movie for these, they’re being honest with the book, and that’s great. The movie did what it set out to do well and entertainingly, and I applaud it. I in fact mainly enjoyed it. I’m just annoyed with Lewis and his horrendously flawed logic and circuitous reasoning. If I’d never read “Mere Christianity” I probably would have fully enjoyed “Narnia.”