For: inappropriate sibling and spouse rivalry, foolish behavior and some moral confusion, spiritual confusion, some humanism, and biblically inconsistent mythology
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe both disappoints and oversteps expectations. Where allegory and spiritual insight were anticipated, they fail to show up. Where mouthy relationships, humanism and mysticism were not anticipated, they get the spotlight. Add to that a somewhat disjointed plot and constant mid-battle gazing into the distance, and Narnia, the movie, is an unfortunate but not unbearable loss.
Note: This review contains content from and comments on the film version, not the book series by C.S. Lewis. Lewis’ own purposes for the story and its themes were not necessarily consulted by the writers of the movie, and it would therefore be unwise to review the film as if it were Lewis’ creation.
Inappropriate Sibling and Spouse Rivalry
A positively-portrayed husband and wife featured throughout the movie display a sarcastic, backbiting relationship, constantly making jabs at each other in front of the human children. It is revealed that the husband had also lied to his wife for his own personal benefit. This relationship is portrayed as normal, even positive, and is used for comic relief.
The children fight with, shove and shout at each other throughout the film. This is portrayed as normal. Even as adults, years after they are portrayed as having learned their lessons, the four siblings are still quarreling immaturely.
Older brother Peter forces the younger Edmund to wear a girl’s garment as punishment for lying. This is positively portrayed.
Foolish Behavior and Some Moral Confusion
While the main characters (and viewers) are clearly supposed to side against the White Witch, and side with Aslan the lion, they are expected to do before a compelling moral reason to do so is presented. The good-guy/bad-guy distinction is kept at a merely nice-guy/intense-guy level until well into the story. The children (and viewers) initially form their political allegiances based primarily on hearsay and outward appearances.1
The children break and damage valuable, historical objects that belong to their host, and when they hear the housekeeper coming they run throughout the house (itself a forbidden action) and hide rather than take responsibility for their actions. This is portrayed as a perfectly natural, normal response.
The children break almost all of the house rules where they are staying, and are positively portrayed for doing so, throughout the film. They are also positively portrayed for rolling their eyes at the (completely reasonable) rules, and the housekeeper is negatively portrayed for giving them.
Important characters disobey direct military orders, and are positively portrayed for doing so.
Edmund risks his life to get an object of sentimental value, and is positively portrayed for it.
A vague, impersonal force called “the Deep Magic” is brought up several times. As presented in the movie, the Deep Magic is not analogous to any spiritual reality. The Deep Magic “defines right from wrong,” and yet is described as having been created at a point in time, implying that right and wrong changed when the Deep Magic was written.2 The Deep Magic also “rules over all of Narnia,” and “governs all our destinies,” including the destinies of beings who predate the Deep Magic, like Aslan the lion. Aslan also claims that the Deep Magic is “more powerful than any of us,” including himself.
The Witch’s spell of perpetual winter over Narnia is broken by the “hope” that the children bring.
A “prophecy” is referenced significantly multiple times, but it is never said who wrote the prophecy or why it should be taken as likely to come to pass. The children believe in it unquestioningly, and allow it to influence their decisions.
The children see various displays of magical powers and view them as positive things, without knowing, or asking, about their spiritual origin.
As an aside, despite the good intentions behind attempts to draw parallels between Aslan as portrayed in this movie, and Jesus Christ, the comparisons are weak, unhelpful and unbiblical. For example, Aslan has only natural knowledge, which he acquires from observation or informants, and has none of the supernaturally-obtained knowledge that characterized the earthly ministry of Jesus. Aslan snarls at his oppressors, while Jesus “opened not his mouth” and was silent like a lamb led to the slaughter. Aslan cites his own need and asks Peter to “consider” performing his request, while Jesus gave commandments with authority from God. Aslan is described merely as “the king of the whole wood, the top geezer,” which would not be appropriate title for Jesus Christ. Aslan himself claims that he is less powerful than the Deep Magic. Aslan’s death is not an atonement for sin, etc.
Aslan reasons away Edmund’s betrayal of innocent people with “I’m sure there’s an explanation.” Peter claims that Edmund’s behavior is really “my fault” for being “too hard on him,” and his sisters join him in attributing Edmund’s guilt to his environment. Edmund is later portrayed as generally sorry that he did what he did, but does not apologize and does not admit any moral failing.
Similarly, when someone kidnaps the girl Lucy and tries to confess his wrongdoing, she says that he “can’t have done anything all that bad.” He insists that he has, and calls himself “a terrible faun,” but it is ultimately Lucy’s personal disappointment at losing him as a friend, not the knowledge that he is guilty of heinous sin, that decides him against going through with it.
Christmas, portrayed as primarily if not exclusively an occasion for getting presents, is presided over by Father Christmas, who gives gifts to those who have “been good”. Those who receive the gifts, however, have already been shown doing bad things, implying a system where good works can balance out unrepented bad works, and the spiritual state of the individual is unimportant.
Biblically Inconsistent Mythology
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe involves numerous characters whose nature as beings conflicts with biblical theology.
Fauns, centaurs and Narnian talking animals are presented as having human-level value, thought patterns and moral consciousnesses, and yet state plainly that they are not descended from Adam and Eve. These characters, however, sin, and since their sin nature did not come from the first Adam, biblically speaking they cannot be saved from their sin by the second Adam. Jesus Christ could atone for human sin only as a person who was fully God and fully man. There was no non-human Incarnation, and no non-human atonement, which means that salvation from sin is not offered, and is not possible, for angels, cucumbers, or Tumnus the faun. Biblically speaking, there are only two options for Narnian sinners: they all go to hell when they die (an unpleasant thought), or they go to heaven because sin isn’t really a problem and doesn’t need atoned for anyway (a heresy). There are no other options.
Many of the mythological creatures in the Narnia movie also involve mixtures of human and animal natures, with individual creatures having both human and animal body parts.
Tree spirits are referenced several times, and are depicted as female spirit beings who are formed from the leaves and blossoms of one or many trees, can travel and change shape at will, and are able to speak. The girls, Lucy and Susan, summon this being at one point, and call on it to perform a task.
1 That the children’s guesses as to who the good guys and bad guys are prove to be correct later on does not change the fact that they were just guesses even after they had chosen sides. In real wars both sides always claim that they are the good guy and the other side is the bad guy. The mere claim is not moral grounds for joining their side.
2 This means that the Deep Magic cannot be analogous to the Law of God, which defines right from wrong based on the character of God, which is eternal.
3 Given that the character of Aslan in this film is not divine, and therefore not eternal, and yet “was there when [the Deep Magic] was written,” this means that the Deep Magic cannot be analogous to the Providence of God, which is an eternal, not created, decree.