Faithful, Faithful, Faithful.
‘Faithful’ sums up my review of the Narnia Movie.
There have been many reviews of the movie already, by wiser heads. I’ve read only one of them, myself, so what follows is primarily from my own reflection. I should note that while I’ve read the Chronicles of Narnia, and TLWW a dozen or more times, I’ve only seen the movie once. I suspect this review would be more robust if I’d see the movie a couple more times. With that said, let’s get on with it.NarniaBox
The first thing that told me I was in for a satisfying experience was when I saw that Douglas Gresham, Lewis’ stepson, was the co-producer. This information was provided before the movie really got started, and I knew that Mr. Gresham would not have allowed Hollywood to stray too far. I hoped that he’d be able to do more than merely restrain, but also dictate. I think that seems to be the case. There are two ways we can contemplate the movie’s faithfulness to the book- which nearly all desire. One is accuracy of detail, and the other is accuracy of message. We will examine each, briefly, in turn.
On ‘accuracy of detail’ let me submit just two examples that I think well describe the faithfulness of the movie to the book. The first has to do with the opening scene. I can imagine thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of viewers saw the scene unfold into a fleet of German bombers over England with some surprise. “I thought this was some sort of children’s fantasy book?” you might hear them think. I can imagine even children would have been initially perplexed. But the book is clear that the reason why the children went out to the country in the first place was because of ‘the war,’ but because of the sorry state of education these days, we could well doubt any of them would know what war was meant or even what is meant by war. The idea of the world of Narnia being related to our own world- not our fantasy world, but our real, live, brutal, beautiful, tragic ‘real’ world- is a critical component of the Narnia books and its appeal. The inclusion of this scene was necessary, in my opinion, on a number of levels. Nonetheless, I thought in my own head that they would simply have started with the children out in the country, with simply a verbal exchange between the children about why they were there. That was my expectation, and I’m glad it was dashed.
The second thing that I would submit on ‘accuracy of detail’ is incredibly minor. It is because it is so minor that I mention it at all! The depths to which the movie makers went to be faithful to the book is illustrated by this example. If anyone is disappointed in other areas where the film makers had to deviate, I think that this example is evidence to show that if the film makers could have been more accurate on a particular item (but weren’t), they certainly would have, and probably have good reasons why they weren’t. The example concerns the discovery of the Wardrobe Room for the first time.
The book says that the room was empty, except for ‘a dead blue-bottle on the window sill.’ I had never noticed this before, but noticed it while reading the LWW one more time prior to going to the movie. I pondered the significance, if any, of this ‘blue bottle,’ in the Wardrobe Room, and looked forward to seeing if the movie called any attention to it. At that point in the movie, the only thing to be seen in the Wardrobe Room was the wardrobe itself, and a silly blue fly that fluttered in the window and fell dead as Lucy watched. The reader probably sees my ignorance about species of flies right off: a ‘blue-bottle’ is a type of fly. A dead fly on a window sill seems to me to be a pretty minor detail, but the movie makers not only included it, but took steps to make sure that the viewer saw a fly that was dead. With such attention to detail evident, I think we can be generous as more and more little things surface that are not so exact.
I should point out, though, that I thought that these two examples are representative. The movie was faithful to the book all over the place. I only wanted to show just how faithful it really was.
Now, we turn to the question of ‘accuracy of message.’
It’s on a matter like this where we have seen movie makers get a little arrogant. Obviously, it can be difficult from the start to translate a narrative of any kind into a film. It’s even worse when the book is so famous, popular, and loved. Film makers often decide to try to convey the ‘message,’ as they understand it, in a way that they hope (so they say) that they will be faithful to the author’s intent and message, but comes out of the mind of the directors. It’s like thinking that the ‘message’ is a destination to be reached on a map, and the author had laid out one way to get to that place, but the directors can see another way to get to that very same place. Let’s imagine that it really is the same destination, indeed.
The problem is, keeping the analogy, if the author provides you directions to the destination that is more scenic, or otherwise filled with certain adventures, your arrival to the destination will find you in a certain frame of mind. A certain attitude will be constructed in your head. A certain ‘mental fatigue’ from your journey. It would be the difference between coming upon a beautiful city at sunset, with the amber light spread out over it, and emerging from a canyon in order to first see it. Your whole being is orientated towards the destination far differently then, say, if the movie director had you merely fly into the city during the noon day hour. You’ve arrived at the same place, but you haven’t really arrived at the ‘same’ place. Given the obvious Christian narrative that permeated the book, it was important to me that the movie really take people to the same ‘destination’ that Lewis brought people. As well as can be expected, that was the case.
Any deviances from that ‘destination’ are understandable, and in that sense, I approve of these new ‘places’ the movie had us traverse in order to arrive where Lewis had wanted, or at anyrate, achieved.
To illustrate this, allow me two more examples. These, again, are representative. I choose two that I think make the best case. In the first place, when Lucy finds her brothers and sister unbelieving about her first trip into Narnia, I wondered if we might see, as we did in the book, a discussion between the children and the Professor, about Lucy’s honesty. Is Lucy normally a liar? the professor wants to know. Is Lucy crazy, as far as they know? he wonders. Peter and Susan know that she is not normally a liar and really a person of good sense, normally. The professor concludes for them that she’s probably telling the truth. This is the famous Lewis ‘Trilemma,’ which of course he got from someone else, about Jesus and his claims to be God and Christ. It’s in Mere Christianity: Jesus was either Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.
This was an important area of faithfulness that the movie had. Another area of faithfulness is, ironically, a deviation from the book! After Aslan has risen from the dead, and the White Witch defeated by him, Aslan declares “It is finished.” This is not in the book as far as I recall. Obviously, this is what Jesus said on the cross, indicating his defeat of death, and presumably, the devil. For those learned secularists who began, with alarm, to suspect that this whole tale was some sort of Christian allegory, “It is finished” would have helped them really come to their conclusion that they’d been had: They’d had a taste of the Christian myth, and darn it, they liked it!
Of course, there were other indications that Lewis had some specific designs in mind in his portrayal of Aslan and the events in LWW which would have been clear enough without this statement. Given the mass audience, including not only hardened learned secularists, but even children who may not have yet thought about these things, the statement ‘It is finished’ will be heard again by them likely the next time they go to church- Easter- and they will find it familiar. Hopefully they will find it welcome.
There were other aspects of the movie that were faithful to the message of the books that are not so implicitly or explicitly concerning its Christian overtones. Some of the grand philosophy buried into the entirety of the Chronicles of Narnia were also expressed in the movie. A good example of this comes at the very end of the movie, when the Professor says something to the effect of, ‘You won’t be able to go back that way, again…’ For the most part, then, the movie does a pretty good job of being accurate to the message of Narnia- both in abstraction as well as mode.
In conclusion, I have hopes that movies are made after the other books as well, provided that they are done with the same quality and attention to both detail and message that was given to LWW. I’m not quite sure how they can pull that off with “The Horse and His Boy” but I hope they find a way. I also hope that Hollywood begins to get the message that the mass of the American public aches for content that does not offend their sensibilities. I feel compelled to point out to them- I trust even THEY can follow conclusions derived from the bottom line, though- that there was no gratuitous sex scene in the LWW.
Nor was there any in the Harry Potter books, or movies. Or Star Wars. Or ET. Or Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion,’ the all time grossing rated ‘R’ movie. There were few ‘F’ bombs (that one goes out to you, Mr. Tarantino) in these movies, as well. Violence there certainly is: but it is of a different sort, isn’t it? An exploration of what makes it different in these cases (a similar case: ‘Saving Private Ryan’) may help Hollywood make heads and tail of the true nature of the human condition. Such a realization would mean good money for them, so its obviously in their best interest to do so. We long for Good Food and Good Drink in our media, and are often disappointed. It’s sad that, in general, our media choices for so long have really been nothing but Fast Food. Is that changing? I think it is.
Aslan is on the move.