Monday, December 19, 2005

Narnia Movie


On December 9th, I had the happy experience of seeing the new movie, The Chronicles of Narnia. The film is a good film and I recommend that everyone except very small children see the movie. I also hope that seeing the movie leads people to read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and all of the seven Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The book is better than the film, but the film is very good.

The special effects in the movie are phenomenal. There are a variety of computer-generated creatures and animals that look almost completely real. The computer-generated battle scenes are amazing and the locations used for filming in New Zealand and Czechoslovakia are both beautiful and appropriate.

The acting done by the little girl playing Lucy was quite extraordinary. The movie successfully captured Aslan’s willing sacrifice to save the child, Edmond, and all of Narnia from the white witch. Of course, Aslan in this fictional story is the same as Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. The movie depicts what it would be like to have a land in which the rational creatures are animals and mythical beasts rather than human beings, and in which Christ assumes the form of a great lion in order to live, die and be raised from the dead for that world and its inhabitants. In spite of a few minor flaws in the dialogue, the movie captures that basic premise and communicates it successfully.

One of the remarkable things about C.S. Lewis’ works is his ability to capture the personality and character of God. Lewis seemed to really understand God’s nature and what it would be like experienced in different circumstances. Lewis understands that the second person of the Trinity was not a loopy Eastern mystic pacifist. Instead, he was God Himself in human flesh. His power is awesome but under total control. Christ emptied himself and humbled himself and allowed himself to be killed. So too does Aslan, the mighty lion. In Narnia, events follow a different course than they did in Jerusalem, but the personality of God himself is well depicted in Aslan as it is truly revealed in scripture.

All that said, I would have to say that the movie was not perfect. When the film attempts to explain the “deep magic” which is mentioned in C.S. Lewis’ original classic, it falls down by failing to use the phrases from the original book and substituting phrases which are inaccurate. The “deep magic” mentioned in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is similar to natural law, the order of creation and the sovereign decrees of God from the foundation of the world. It essentially flows from the nature of God himself and is thereby the set of ground rules by which God will function and to which everything else in creation must in some way conform or bow. The evil white witch who governs Narnia knows that this “deep magic” requires that traitors are her rightful property. But she is ignorant of the deeper magic flowing from the nature and ordinances of God himself that also provides for redemption from the dreadful curse of law that turns traitors over to the witch. This “deep magic” flows from God and therefore from Aslan as Aslan rightly says in a movie “I was there when it was written.” But in the film they imply in the dialogue that Aslan is given that this “deep magic” controls his “destiny” and that the “deep magic” is a matter of interpretation rather than something that is clearly known if one is willing to understand God and his ways. Both of these remarks are contrary to the original story, even though I don’t think that they justify any decision not to see the movie.

The Chronicles of Narnia are also somewhat controversial because Lewis uses the word “magic.” But this magic is simply the supernatural and the metaphysical, the order behind the universe. While there are magical items in the story, such as arrows that find their mark—this magic is wholesome “magic” that is based upon obedience to God’s law and order. By contrast, the magic of the white witch, which is closer to the classical occult, is completely condemned. Even though there is magic in The Chronicles of Narnia, in a sense it is not the sort of magic that will lead your children to play in the backyard with brooms, black hats or spells in Latin. It is not the kind of reference to magic that is likely to lead children into the occult or into an illegitimate search for supernatural power through the forms of occultism specifically forbidden by the Bible. Instead, other than that of the white witch and evil magic, Lewis’ magic is another way of talking about the supernatural, the wondrous, the miraculous, the delightful and the technological.

Two other criticisms I have of the film are that it weakened the metaphor of the Turkish delight and weakened Aslan himself. In the book, Turkish delight is a metaphor for sin and the way sin causes us to desire it more and more and more while at the same time giving us less and less of a return in pleasure. The same idea was depicted in a different way through the curse in the Disney movie Pirates of the Caribbean. The movie also weakened Aslan visa vie the book. Yet I understand that it is very difficult to communicate through images the sort of thing that can be directly described in words. In the book we can hear how people feel and react to Aslan. In the film it is necessary to create an image which may give us the same feelings. I’m afraid the image of Aslan in the movie was wonderful, but did not give me the feelings of simultaneous fear, awe and love present in the description in the book. All that said though, I still loved the movie. The scene where the mice free Aslan still made me cry just like it does when I read the book.

One last criticism of the movie was that the children are much less adventurous than the children in C.S. Lewis’ books. In the movie, they’re constantly wondering whether or not they should go back to England, indicating that it is far too dangerous to be in Narnia. I don’t recall that kind of questioning in the original book. I suppose though that the authors wanted to make these children more like modern children than our more adventurous ancestors.

Overall, I recommend going to see The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe early and often.

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