Saturday, March 04, 2006

And the Andy Goes to...

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for most underrated picture of the year.

I was all set to defend this year’s Oscar nominees against the charge that they were picked as part of some vast, left-wing conspiracy to “intolerantly [bash] America, conservatives and Christians,” as Ted Baehr of the Christian Film & Television Commission put it, and to argue in favor of their artistic merits. But when it came right down to it, I just couldn’t bring myself to say that TLTWATW wasn’t as good as these other films.

You could make strong arguments that TLTWATW deserved nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress (Tilda Swinton). I’m not sure that it necessarily would have won, but the work is definitely of the same caliber as the other nominees. Where the Academy really missed the boat was in failing to nominate it for Adapted Screenplay; Brokeback Mountain will (and should) still win this category, but this was the one field where Narnia was especially competitive. Instead, it’s been nominated in technical categories like Visual Effects, where it will get properly stomped on by King Kong.

Back in December I wrote about whether TLTWATW could properly be called “allegorical” or even “Christian,” but I feel there’s still much more to be said on the matter. This was a beautiful, masterfully constructed, magical movie with timeless and universal messages about the nature of good and evil. A lot of intelligent people skipped it because the conservative Christian community kept loudly insisting it was a transparent, one-note allegory. Why should a non-religious or non-Christian person bother with a live-action cartoon about Jesus in a lion suit?

Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’ stepson and a co-producer on the film, told the LA Times, “We never set out to make a ‘Christian’ movie. The book taps different veins in different people. If we overstressed what little symbolism there is, we would have thrown away the project.”

“My biggest fear, “ wrote Kris Rasmussen for Beliefnet, “is that in an overzealous attempt to use Narnia as some kind of special marketing tool, churches will deny others, who may not agree with a Christian interpretation of the story, their chance to discover for themselves the depth of meaning(s) in the tale.”

Adults will find a complex understanding of evil, said another Beliefnet writer, Devin Brown. “We don’t just see the actions of evil characters, we come to understand why they behave the way they do. Sensitive [viewers] will wonder to what extent in their own lives, they, like Edmund, are guilty of blaming others for their own failings. And at the same time, also like Edmund, they may wonder if they are totally blind to this fact.” One of the major themes is “no man (or woman) does evil in their own eyes.” Isn’t that the same point as Munich?

Just because the film is replete with talking animals doesn’t mean it’s for children. “It is here that the atheist and the believer meet,” argues The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, “exactly in the realm of made-up magic. Atheists need ghosts and kings and magical uncles and strange coincidences…just as much as the believers do, to register their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less to our hopes.”


little-cicero said...

I know that you're no longer drawing this comparison (/contrast) but like Brokeback Mountain, this movie did have the ability to change points of view as did Brokeback Mountain. However, as a result of its superior grandeur and diversity of attributes (a mixture of seriousness, levity, war, piece, love and hate is essential to the greatness of a movie) as well as the obvious Christian allegory, this movie had the ability not only to change points of view, but also th change lives.

little-cicero said...

Oh, I should mention that I was defending Brokeback Mountain tonight, arguing that it could be a beautiful movie while promoting a message with which the observor disagrees. So I guess the Right considers me a bleeding heart and you guys still think I'm a bigot, but that just makes me a rational moderate, a position with which I'm satisfied.

little-cicero said...

By the way, what did you think of Crash? Or have you not yet seen it. If not, I highly recommend that you do.

Andy said...

I have not seen it. I suspect my reaction would be much the same as the incomparable Frank's.

Jade said...

Hello Andy... long time no see! It's amazing who you can find while wandering the net.

Here's the opinion of a particularly non-religious person. I read Chronicles just before going to see the movie. The book screamed "Bible!" to me because of the constant Adam and Eve references, which is probably why so many people wanted to "own" the movie as a Christian allegory. I thought the producers did a great job of telling the story, yet downplaying some of the biblical sounding language so the movie could reach a broader audience. The only time we noticed anything that could be considered allegorical during our viewing of the film was when the teenagers next to us in the theater sniggered and said "ooohhhh, there's Jesus!" every time Aslan came onto the screen.

Andy said...

Well, no one in their right mind would deny that the stories have Christian symbolism, but then again, if you think about it, almost all Western stories do, somewhere along the line. The storyline of a person who is struck down only to rise again with even greater power is the basic premise of practically every comic book out there.

The damage is done when people -- conservative Christian or otherwise -- assume this film (or these books) have the same intended effect as the violence montage in Clockwork Orange, that is, it somehow turns you into a Christian while you sit imprisoned in your theater chair. Like Wagner's Ring, Narnia can be enjoyed exclusively on a plot-level basis without going into the deeper meanings; doing so, of course, means you miss out on the "point" but at least you were harmlessly entertained.