The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Short of it: I like the movie. Perhaps most importantly of all my intelligent, pious seven-year-old daughter loved it. As you might expect, I'm happy about the faithfulness to the book: not because I think it would have been obviously wrong to diverge in certain ways (for example unlike many of my comrades I have little problem with Peter Jackson shifting emphasis from Glorfindel to Arwen), but rather because I think the likelihood of diverging in a way which results in an improvement is low. And I think that what people want to see is not an adaptation, but, specifically, the book incarnate, so to speak. Now for some discussion.
I went into the theater with the wrong expectations. With LOTR fresh in my memory I forgot I was about to see a kids movie. As a result, I started out a little disappointed at its simplicity and the large letters in which it was written. However, I caught myself at this fairly quickly, so that did not keep me from enjoying the movie. One example of the for-kids-ness of the movie is the immediacy of the intimacy between Lucy and Tumnus. This happened far too fast for me, but that's just how kids are. They meet someone at the playground and they are instant friends. One of my best friends recently visited for the Holy Days and it was the first time my oldest had seen him. He's a friendly and funny chap and within minutes he was "Uncky Mike" and within hours he was one of her favorite people in the world. Obviously this innocence could be dangerous on this earth, but I think it is a reflection of the Communion of the Saints.
I also thought that Edmund was portrayed as too one-dimensional. He struck me as nastier than in the book and more thoroughly corrupted rather than just cross-tempered and tempted astray. Same with Peter. It seemed like there was a flashing light above his head saying "Thinks he's the boss" and above Edmund's "Bad guy." Perhaps this is due to time constraints, but my biggest complaint is lack of character development. Or, it might just be because it's a kids movie; or perhaps I'm just mistaken.
Minor criticism: Aslan was too small. A male lion can grow to nearly 600 pounds. I thought the Aslan of the film seemed not even that large, when, surely, he should have been around 800 pounds. The average male lion is over four feet tall at the shoulder and I think the Aslan of the movie was at best just that big. Again, it seems to me that Aslan would rightly be portrayed as about half-again as big. Not cartoony big, just the biggest of the big. Perhaps this assumption could be challenged. Jesus was not especially big, strong, or handsome ("He had no form or comeliness that we should look upon him...").
The thing which surprised me the most was when Aslan killed Jadis. First, I was shocked that he'd kill her at all. Not saying that my first impression was right, but Aslan attacking and killing even a great enemy when not directly in defense struck a harsh cord in my soul. Please note this is not a criticism but a confession. I suspect there's something wrong with my affections here. That worries me for my moral epistemology is basically intuitionism. That is, I think our primary way of knowing right from wrong is how we emotionally react to concrete actions. This is why it is so bad when our affections are led astray by a bad upbringing. I also thought the witch in The Silver Chair was Jadis returned, but I guess I was wrong about that. I'll have to think more about Aslan killing the witch in open battle. The idea of Jesus leading the attack in open battle seems incongruous, yet I think there are just wars, so I'm feeling some cognitive dissonance. There was some dissonance in the Early Church as well. I'll have to look into that a bit. Since I've digressed, here's a good recent article from First Things on Just War.

4 Comments:

At Saturday, January 07, 2006 10:55:00 AM, Anonymous C. Ansorge said...

I loved the movie too. Being a simpler sort, I just let myself go. Also I was the mother of five children who'd brought along 3 of their friends, so I had enough kindly distractions to keep my inner critic quiet.

I liked the portrayals of the children very much. I felt that some of the beautiful verdigris of the original was lost to the rewriting, but children are ever new and so the updates were not worth getting upset about. If they were too hard on anyone it was Susan, but perhaps I am just a little sensitive on that point.

 
At Saturday, January 07, 2006 11:44:00 AM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

That's interesting about Susan. I thought they really patched up her image. Specifically, as I mention above, they pretty much removed the effect of her "mothering" Edmund. In the book, I found her bossy; in the movie she seemed to be the peacemaker that Peter in fact was in the book.

I'm glad the munchkinses liked it. It really ramped up my kids' enthusiasm for the books and, as is so often said, that's one of the best effects of the movie.

 
At Monday, January 09, 2006 7:03:00 PM, Anonymous Scott Laverick said...

I also liked the movie. I was rather surprised at how many of my friends disliked it. I think many people were looking too much for a new LOTR, and forgot that this movie was for kids. I appreciated the "child-appeal" so to speak. Mainly because Lewis wrote the books with children in mind. Your comment about Lucy and Tumnus is a perfect example. It makes the most sense when you think about kids, and the way they react.
I find it interesting that most of the things you (Trent) were questioning go back to the books. Aslan leading an assault, for example. (On a sidenote, Jadis was not the same as the Green Lady, though it is said in Prince Caspian that you cannot truly kill a witch.) Having read the books right after watching the movie, I was actually struck at how faithful they were to the books. I think, if anything, Peter was too hesitating and unsure, and there was too much emphasis on the battle (which gets virtually no time in the book). Also, the line about Aslan not being tame, but good rubbed me the wrong way. The original lines were far better. "Is he safe?" Is much more related to "No, but he's good." Than the line, "After all, he's not a tame lion." I suppose they wanted to combine these strong statements at the end of the book, but they would have been better split up. I also agree that Aslan could have been larger, but that also might make him too formidable. After all, he needs to be a comfort to the children, not just a terror to his enemies.
As to Aslan killing the witch... I think that the symbolism is strong because the Final Judgment is a fierce one. That the witch is killed reminds us that Christ does not bear a cross alone, but also a sword. Think of the passages where Christ says, "It would have been better for him to have had a millstone tied about his neck and cast into the sea" (Luke 17) or something to that effect.
All in all - I liked it. I saw it twice.

Concerning the note on Susan. It would be good to remember that Susan does not return to Narnia in the Last Battle. She gets too caught up in the world. I agree with Trent that if anything, they could have shifted more of the peacemaker to Peter, and more of the mother to Susan, who had a larger problem with pride and knowledge and being "grown up" than Peter, I think.

 
At Tuesday, January 10, 2006 9:26:00 AM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Scotty, great comments one and all. I especially appreciate your pointing out the gravity of the judgement we know will take place.

 

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