Monday, December 10, 2007

The Golden Compass

Because I am a Christian, and because I enjoy following pop culture, especially movies, I've found myself unable to escape the recent hype about "The Golden Compass". Of course, the more hype a piece of work draws, the more curious I become. And, as a person that frequently interacts with young people and their parents, I was also interested in being able to speak for myself on this movie. (For those of you that haven't read about the controversy, scroll down to see the quotes at the bottom of this post)
In any case, last week G-Dub and I found ourselves headed to the theater. I evaluated the film on two fronts: cinematic and artistic value, as well as potential areas of concern for Christian families.

As a film buff, I actually really enjoyed the first half of the film. I felt that writer/director Chris Weitz did an amazing job creating a sense of place: a parallel Earth, identifiable yet discernibly different. It carries the weight and feel of a futuristic novel from the 1800's. Oftentimes, this comes off as cheesy, but it definitely works in this movie. The casting was superb, with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig working their delicious magic, and phenomenal newcomer Dakota Blue Richards as young Lyra.

Unfortunately, these elements aren't able to sustain the storyline once Lyra heads north with an unconvincing talking polar bear. Story elements become weaknesses when tediously overused (We're left hanging with the introduction of every new character... good guy? bad guy? Unfortunately, we never find out the answer until long after we've stopped caring). And don't even get me started on that alethiometer. Ultimately, I found the movie to be either too long, too slow, or just too boring. On this basis alone, I recommend you save your $.

As a "Christian viewer", it seems that most of the book's controversial material has been watered down or left out of the movie. At face value, I doubt one would walk out of the theater feeling offended on behalf of God or the church. That being said, there are numerous articles suggesting that this is an intentional strategy: parents see the movie, deem it harmless, then go buy the trilogy of books, much more blatant in anti-Christian propaganda.

The one aspect of the story most likely to be confusing for children is the concept of "daemons". In the movie, a person's soul lives outside of their body in the form of a talking animal companion, called a daemon. To a child, the idea of a talking furry friend would be utterly fantastic! To a Christian however, the word demon suggests evil and rebellion against God, and parents may not want to attempt explaining this dichotomy of concepts to young children.

In general, I don't tend to get on board with attacking the corrupting influence of the week. What is most dangerous to the Christian faith, I believe, is not atheists trotting out their beliefs, but Christians not living out theirs. So, before you hit "send" on that next e-mail forward demanding a boycott of this movie, why don't you stop and say a quick prayer for all those who will read the book or see the movie, that they would know the truth and experience of God's love.

What others are saying:

A concerned e-mail forwarder:

"It's one thing to be an atheist, and something else altogether to draw children in with the agenda to kill God in their formative years. Let's make this movie a failure, by letting people know what's behind it."

Blogger Andrew Seely:

"Why put so much time, effort, money into stopping such (in the grand scheme of things) trivial things? It baffles me that if we as christians spent a fraction of the time, energy and resources that we pour into stopping the major immorality of the week, we might actually do something that jesus and god are proud of."

To me it seems that when we take so much time to oppose things such as movies, the underlying tone is that we fear that god isn't strong enough to handle whatever it is that is or isn't attacking god."

One of my students:

"First off all kids should kno its just a moive and second off if ur family believes in god, then ur kids should kno that god really cant b killed. i mean how can u kill sum1 u cant see? exactly. plus if ur kids think that, theres so many ways to help them."

A synopsis of information available at

The movie has been described as "atheism for kids" and is based on the first book of a trilogy entitled "His Dark Materials" that was written by Phillip Pullman. Pullman is a militant atheist and secular humanist who despises C. S. Lewis and the "Chronicles of Narnia". His motivation for writing this trilogy was specifically to counteract Lewis' symbolisms of Christ that are portrayed in the Narnia series.

"Clearly, Pullman's main objective is to bash Christianity and promote atheism. Pullman left little doubt about his intentions when he said in a 2003 interview that "my books are about killing God" and in a 2001 interview that he was "trying to undermine the basis for Christian belief." He has even stated that he wants to "kill God in the minds of children". It has been said of Pullman that he is "the writer the atheists would be praying for, if atheists prayed."


Andrew Seely said...

I have yet to actually see the movie, so as you can tell, I stayed away from actually saying something either for or against the film/book.

I have heard that the director actively watered down the "religous/non-religous" aspects of the books as to avoid much of the hoopla that goes with the whole thing.

Thanks for the quote.

Katherine said...

I was just tipped off to another great post about "The Golden Compass", written by one of our church's missionaries.

You can check it out here: