Movie Review - Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

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for battle sequences and frightening moments

Every book-to-movie has its opponents and its proponents. To lovers of the book, the unpardonable sin may be as simple as a character’s failure to look the way he did in the reader’s mind. There will always be a part of the audience, even if it is only a small part, that refuses to be satisfied with the director’s interpretation of the original story. I believe it’s only a very small part this time, and I’m afraid I am in it for more serious reasons than personal preferences.

The acting, cinematography and film score all provide the superior level of enjoyment we have come to expect from a leviathan film company like Disney; the story, not so much. Those who have read the book may not enjoy the perhaps uncalled for amount of time spent positively creating and then elaborating on the four children’s character flaws. Much more emphasis is placed on the children’s relationships with one another than we find in the book. Unfortunately, while this may appeal to strife-ridden homes today, it takes over the film, so that newcomers to Narnia might well get the impression that the story is primarily about the Pevensies, and only secondarily about anything, or anyone, else.

I could give a long list of the good qualities in Disney’s attempts to capture a book loved by so many people, but it could be matched, item for item, by cunningly subtle misrepresentations of the whole point of the story: Aslan.

Sexual Content:
It would seem, at first, that we would only have to worry about the White Witch, or maybe Susan, in the category of revealing clothing. Of course, at some point in the movie we are going to remember that the greater part of the good guys are mythological creatures whose human half, the upper half, is traditionally bare. Mr. Tumnus, as well as Aslan’s general and various other masculine characters, appears shirtless. A couple of demonic creatures are shown in nothing but loincloths. The White Witch evidently doesn’t own a dress that covers her shoulders, and at the very end of the film, the adult Lucy and Susan are shown with somewhat low necklines.

Frankly, there are worse things to quote from this movie than the words that appear in this category. The mild British slang words, “blooming”, “blimey”, and “blighter” (perhaps the English are fond of certain letter combinations?) are not likely to show up in household conversation. The phrase “shut up” is used twice, and Peter declares, soberly but extravagantly, that he is going to kill his brother, and calls him an idiot once.

Violent and Intense Content:

One of the points on Disney’s side of the score is the admirable crafting of the violent or emotionally intense scenes in rapid, brief, but communicative shots, keeping pictures of death minimal, and of blood almost nonexistent. However, it is always possible that some of the scenes may prove a bit intense, specifically those that focus on single combat situations, and those that are calculated to grasp the emotions. One character, particularly, is wounded almost fatally, and, of course, two very important characters, fatally. The most significant point of the story, from a Christian perspective, is the murder of Aslan, and it is certainly meant to be intense. It is the only scene in which we watch someone die, and if the movie had taught us to care much about Aslan himself, it might have been quite distressing. The Witch’s horde has a demonic (though perhaps too costumed) appearance, and Tumnus’ song (malevolent enough on its own) stirs up a fire into literally spellbinding images of dancing fauns.


To put the least of the evils first, Lucy’s attitude is at times coaxing and pouting, and she gets away with it every time. The children dishonorably (and irrationally) try to hide from the housekeeper after a new-to-the-story mishap with a cricket ball. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, in a departure from the originals (and which character in this film is not?), display a sarcastic, back-biting, occasionally sweet relationship, intended to provide a degenerate form of comic relief.

Lucy’s Christmas present of a dagger is given with the caution that “battles are ugly affairs.” This is kind of close to the original line, which says that “battles are ugly when women fight.” When given a similar gift, and realizing that the book’s restrictions on its use didn’t make it into the screenplay, Susan only makes a smart remark that leaves the actual issue of women fighting in battles unresolved.

Christmas brings with it its own set of difficulties for some families. It is made clear that, to all characters, the whole point of Christmas is presents. This is tied to another problem with the Father Christmas/Santa Claus message. Mr. Beaver put it this way: “I hope you’ve all been good!” For the Christian, red flags should begin waving madly. With as much effort as we put into articulating doctrines that emphatically deny any value in good works apart from a right relationship with the God of the New Testament, it seems a pity to deliberately introduce a good child/bad child distinction that completely ignores the spiritual state of the individual. This only leads to the view of sin that lurks behind Lucy’s declaration that Mr. Tumnus “can’t have done anything all that bad.” As a matter of fact, he can… and has.

And then we have to deal with Tumnus himself, and the fact that he is the sort of creature we first find in pagan literature. For the most part, people’s reactions to the idea of fauns and centaurs and so forth in the movie will be dependent on their ideas about them from the book, and I’m not going to go too deep into that controversy right now. It would, however, be wise to be a bit guarded about anything “out of the ordinary” in this film. Many of the fantasy elements have taken on a stranger twist than what even C. S. Lewis intended. For instance, rather than presenting dryads as found in the books and in mythology (one rational entity to a tree, please), the director of the film has chosen to form one out of bits and pieces of many kinds of trees—a leaf here, a blossom there, et voila: out of the individuated elements comes a single personality that can float through the air and give people messages.

Alas, it is not only the mythological characters that have been tainted by an apparently1 unbelieving director, cast and crew, and it is not only the believers in the audience that will lose something by the change. Aslan isn’t what we remembered him to be, nor what he should be.
He is an Aslan who thanks unprofitable servants. He is an Aslan who is exalted by the “Long live…” phrase, as if it was perfectly normal to say that to someone who has been around since before the invention of natural lighting sources. This Aslan gets his information about prophecies from a beaver. He is an Aslan who, as a sheep before her shearers is silent2, so… he only snarls at his oppressors, and doesn’t get as violent as he wants to. His death is not an Atonement, and he accomplishes very little with it.

He is not the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. There is no Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. There is only a “Deep Magic” that is of a very different brand than what we read about in the books. It is a vague, impersonal force that even Aslan says is “more powerful than any of us” (including himself, presumably), and yet it doesn’t govern our destinies, it only “oversees” them, leaving us with a naturalistic view of destiny. And there is no deeper magic, like there is in the book. Whatever this new Magic stuff is, it’s all we’ve got to work with, but it certainly isn’t much, when all we can find to glory in is the really quite pathetic knowledge that “If the witch understood the true meaning of sacrifice, she might have interpreted the Deep Magic differently…”3. Clearly, there is no God the Father in the new Narnia. There is no God the Son in the new Narnia4.

Aslan has meant something grand to Christians of every variety, but I think that those of certain doctrinal persuasions ought to love him (or what he represents) even better than most. To any Christian, the Aslan of the twenty-first century is not as great, as glorious, as lovely and beloved as the Aslan of the books was meant to be. To those in the Reformers’ tradition, he is simply not Aslan. He is a more familiar, more benign Great Lion than he of whom it was said, “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” This is the Aslan who “will do what I can to save your brother, but I need you to consider what I ask of you.” He is, in the rather shocking language of the movie, “the top geezer,” and no more5.

However… if you can get past all this (the attitudes, the mysticism and the poor theology), and if you can forget that there ever was another Narnia for comparison, and if you like movies about squabbling children, talking animals and epic battles, you might be able to enjoy a few parts of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I might, depending on the age range of the prospective audience, and depending on the viewers’ ability to look at creative, well-executed films without being drawn into them, allow that the new Narnia could be used as a tool, to demonstrate how a group of apparent infidels can use syncretism to corrupt a Christian parable6—and perhaps the Christian, too. It would not be safe to leave children (or inattentive adults, either, for that matter) to watch this movie on their own, and there is no reason to do so. I must continue with my earlier compliments to the filmmakers, and admit gladly that because of some careful work on their part, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is probably not going to be too violent for even a ten year old, though more sensitive children may prefer to wait another few years. If it is of interest to anyone, there was enough careful work of a different kind to render me completely indifferent to the movie’s other charms.

1 Tilda Swinton, for example: “In fact, if anything - and I cannot believe I am going to say this - I think it [Narnia] is almost anti-religious. What I mean by that is that it's about children learning to draw not on any kind of dogma or doctrine but on their own resources, outside of the box. Outside their family, outside parental guidance, outside anything. The thing about Narnia is that it takes you to the heart of yourself, your own conscience and your own experience, and so I think it [Narnia] is so much wider than any religion could be, actually.” “The Witch is a force of evil and Aslan is a force of good and they are absolutely in balance one with the other. I am Narnia, in a way.”
Director Andrew Adamson consistently declines to give any information on his personal religious affiliation, stating that religion is very personal. (see Matthew 10:32-33)

2 Isaiah 53:7

3 Emphasis added in all quotes.

4 As was pointed out to me, the original Narnia gives no parallel for God the Holy Spirit, so we cannot blame the film version for leaving out a member of the Trinity. We can blame it for corrupting two of them, however.

5 Gee'zer\, n. A queer old fellow; an old chap; an old woman. [Contemptuous, Slang or Dial.]

6 There are those who would use the original Narnia to teach a similar lesson, and their concerns about New Age influences, etc. are worth examining, though at some points they are clearly misinformed, and at others ridiculously fallacious. Their observation about the Witch’s supposed descent from “Lilith”, Adam’s mythological “first” wife, is very interesting, or should be, to a Christian.

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