The Golden Compass

I went to see The Golden Compass movie last night.  I enjoyed the book, and there has been some controversy about the movie, particularly on library lists.  I did have reservations about the trilogy.  The author is an atheist, and did put that mind-set in his books.  In the third book, there’s a scene where “The Authority”–what the people of that world think of as God– is portrayed as a senile old man and dies.

Some of the internet rumors say that the movie is against the Catholic church.  I thought the Magisterium portrayed in the movie sounded more like a totalitarian government of our world than like the church of our world.  It wanted to control everyone and squelch independent thought.

But the Magisterium in the movie didn’t strike me as at all scary.  They say it’s trying to control everyone, but it seems to be failing miserably.  All the characters the movie follows are not giving in to the Magisterium’s wishes.

I brought my thirteen-year-old son to the movie, though he has not read the book.  He was not impressed.  I think the movie is more likely to keep him from reading the books than the other way around.  My personal opinion was that they tried to pack an epic book into the much shorter format of a movie–and it simply didn’t work.  The issues and plot points that seem important and earth-shaking in the book seem trivial and minor in the movie.

My son pointed out that Lyra says, “I thought I would lose you” to the armored bear–but that didn’t mean anything to him, because in the movie she had only just met the bear.  Condensing the timeline in the movie takes away much of the story’s impact.  I had to explain several things to him that weren’t clear in the movie, as well.

All in all, I think it’s kind of ironic that anyone protested against the movie, because I think that will be responsible for most of the attention it gets.  An excellent, well-done movie might influence people’s thinking–but I don’t think this particular movie would have a lot of impact on its own.

It was interesting.  I think the main point against the Magisterium was made that they were trying to “tell people what to do.”  Phillip Pullman seems to exalt free will as the ultimate value.  (Adam and Eve were noble for deciding to act how they wanted to act.)  This came out in both Lyra and Mrs. Coulter saying, “I don’t let anyone tell me what to do.”

Well, in Lyra, she came across as a bit of a spoiled brat.  As for Mrs. Coulter, what she was choosing to do was some pretty evil things.  Those things were sanctioned by the Magisterium, but they were clearly supposed to be horrific.

So instead of illustrating how wonderful it is to have free will, I felt like the movie illustrated that SOME rules are good, that everybody doing what’s right in his own eyes will facilitate chaos.

Just today, I read the line, “We looked at our pain and struggles, even our terror, and recognized God’s patience and his amazing gift of free will.”  (Patty Kirk, Confessions of an Amateur Believer.)

I’m not sure what religions Philip Pullman has encountered.  But I believe that free will is a gift of God.  I do believe that God has given us laws as guidelines–the designer telling us the best way to run our lives.  (Is an auto manufacturer impinging on our free will by telling us to keep oil in the engine?)  You can ignore Him and bring a lot of pain and suffering into your own life and the lives of those around you.

Even in the story, Lyra has a strong sense of justice–trying to restore stolen children, trying to restore a rightful king to his throne, and trying to keep her father from being killed.

But all told, the movie wasn’t nearly as thought-provoking or memorable as the book.  Kind of fun to watch the computerized creatures, but not the sort of movie that sticks with you.

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