The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Holy Holywood Batman: The Golden Compass

I just finished watching The Golden Compass. It was a well-crafted movie, the writers having cleaned up the gaseous prose and turned the Jules-Verianly delightful. [Aside: Alvin and the Chipmunks is funniest in German, by far, least funny in Italian (or maybe English). Anyway, here are a few random comments--both particular and general. The use of language is often very clever. I think the "dust" thing doesn't work, dust isn't mysterious enough. Further reflection on this might lead to reversal, but I was left cold by it the first time round. What's clever--devilishly clever--is the reversal of meaning of "church" words. The slyest is the use of "demon" to stand for the spirit-guides individuals have (their inclusion as characters is by far the best literary device). The idea was to turn the word "demon" which is name of a bad thing in contemporary church language into a term that names a good thing: the spirit guide of the central characters. Less creative is the use of "Magisterium" for the evil empire. The smart thing about the use of "demon" is that its historically and etymologically appropriate and attached to a clever dramatic device. The use of "Magisterium" as the source of evil, on the other hand, is just too blatant, it's not creative.

I'm not sure I care for the Aletheometer or its name. Again, it's a bit too direct, and though I think the three-needle-symbol idea is good, they don't really use it. At first she interprets the signs, but then later she just sees visions when she looks into it. What's the point of the symbols if it just shows her visions?

Nevertheless, the reason I would never show the movie to a child is that it has a clear message and the message is bad. The message is that you should do whatever you want, authority is intrinsically bad, and that ruthlessness is a virtue whereas mercy is a vice. I wish to be clear about this: these reasons are totally seperate from the ones based on where this movie is headed (which is a sufficient reason not to let kids see it). It's not the atheological rantings of the author of the original book that I'm concerned with here. I won't let my kids watch The Golden Compass for about the same reason I won't let them see, say, Alvin and the Chipmunks. I chose not to take in the violence of No Country for Old Men or the endless Soliloquis of Lians for Lambs to screen Alvin and the Chipmonks for the kids. Verdict = no. I don't need teen life nonsense pumped into my kids. To be fair, the movie has a message--at least one of the messages--that I fully indorse. It's just that like most other movies these days, the good message is either just slathered on top of the usual filth as an excuse to attract people to the movies to see the filth--this is the defining feature of PG-13 movies aimed at teens--or they just can't bring themselves to filter it out.

The Golden Compass manages to fuse the puerile message of teen movies with the ruthlessness No Country for Old Men (admittedly without the blood. In Compass Land when people are skewered with arrows they just go out in a burst of flame), with the preachiness of Lambs for Lions (or is it Lions for Lambs). It's a shame too, because the kids would love the wacky hijinks of Alvin and the Chipmunks (I'd love to watch this move with thiem if it didn't mean forcing them to watch a bunch of music videos and party scenes. And I'd love to watch The Golden Compass with them, they'd love the polar bear character, and the scenery, and many other aspects of the movie. I am sad that I cannot watch this movie with them. However, I truly cannot do so, for it would hurt them.


At Wednesday, May 28, 2008 1:31:00 AM, Anonymous jeremy said...

Dear Count-sull of Trent,

I'd have have to diverge in my opinion of paving the 'golden' path for my children. I'll leave the debate of the creativity/appropriateness of the "magisterium", the mercilessness message of said movie, and the meaning of the word "sly" for later... Children will eventually be exposed to all of the issues that you are currently advocating shielding them from, and yet this seems the perfect opportunity to inocculate them from the subtleties of persuasion. I find media moments such as these, the time to ask B. what he thinks about the message. Studies show that such early age "inoculation" works well for sex, drugs, the effects of advertisements... much better than brushing the issues under the rug till they are old enough to learn about them from their peers.

At Thursday, May 29, 2008 11:20:00 AM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

They'll eventually come into contact with explicit sex, too, so I suppose I should get on the ball and rent them some porn, eh?

My kids *do*, already, confront these ideas. But they do so not in contexts which make these vices into virtues, but, rather, in contexts--Lewis, Tolkien et al.--where vice is vice, and virtue virute.

At Sunday, June 01, 2008 2:56:00 AM, Anonymous jeremy said...

I'm not talking about the blatantly obvious, such as midget porn or natural born killers. Your ad adsurdum is grossly off the mark to what I said. First of all I said "Innoculation", not full exposure. Second This movie is a fine example of subtleties. Complex paradigmatic themes juxtaposed with cute and cuddly polar bears, with voice overs from Gandolf-- and directly marketed to children as well. I find these moments appropriate for discussion with a child. Of course, my 4 year old would focus on the polar bear, and the between-the-lines arguments would go over his head. But I could easily point out any philosophical flaws I would feel He could understand-- For instance "B, do you think all people in charge are bad?" Now I'm not showing the Movie to B. for different reasons-- the blatant themes of cruelty to children, and some of the violence. But if you want to teach a child such higher functioning concepts of "some people believe that authority is intrinsically bad and that aggression is a virtue, but we don't". What better venue have you? Any movie without blatant contraindication for a child to see (such as sexual content, excessive blood and guts, and drugs) I feel cold almost always be great philosophical teaching ground.


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