Saturday, December 10th, 2005
I saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe Friday morning, and I loved it. This is a film I've already added to my list of "things we must eventually own," but if you want to fully appreciate it, don't wait for DVD. Aslan's roar, among other things, is best appreciated when emanating from a dozen big speakers surrounding an audience full of wide-eyed mortals.
If you've never read the C.S. Lewis book from which the movie is drawn, you may want to not read further, because it's very difficult to discuss Lewis' work without spoiling at least SOME of it -- especially for those already familiar with the archetypes found in the Christian mythos.
For the record, when I read The Chronicles of Narnia (all seven books) in grade-school, I enjoyed them fully, and the allegorical parallels to Christianity were completely lost on me. You CAN go into these books and this film with no religious background and not feel like you're being preached to. For the believer, however, the allegory will underscore certain aspects of your belief, inviting you to further contemplate the mysteries, miracles, and manifestations of repentance, atonement, and forgiveness.
Whether or not you believe as I do, that Jesus Christ died and lived again to make eternal forgiveness possible for each of us, you'll probably agree that the themes of forgiveness and personal sacrifice are worthy ones. The world could use a whole lot more of them. I really don't want to spook the non-Christians among my readers -- you folks will enjoy this film a lot.
But so far I've talked about the allegorical aspect, which, when you get right down to it, is not why most of us go to see movies. I know it's not why I go see movies, at any rate. I like escapist entertainment, and The Chronicles of Narnia delivers this in spades. Four children between the ages of (I'm guessing here) six and sixteen are evacuated from London along with thousands of others during the Blitz, and end up staying with "the Professor" and his very narrow-minded housekeeper. The kids are bored, frightened, lonely, and homesick in turn, and then a doorway opens up to the magical world of Narnia.
Escapism -- see?
In order to pull it off, the filmmakers have to resort to lots of effects, and while there were a few that didn't work well for me, that's because I'm the kind of butthead who goes into movies looking for the "seams." If you don't look for them, they won't jump out at you. Mr. Tumnus is a Faun, with unguligrade legs (walks on hooves, like a horse, with what looks like "backwards" knees*), and if you just ACCEPT that, and stop trying to find the point at which actor James McAvoy stops, and the CGI starts, you'll be happier. Especially since it's hard to find that particular seam. It's DISTRACTING. Cut that out. Watch. The. Movie.
More important than the effects, however, is the acting. The actors playing the children did a fine job. Georgie Henley, who plays the youngest girl Lucy, was magnificent. She was cute, she was innocent, she was THIS close to having a tantrum... and it didn't look like "acting." No seams. It just WAS. And the others weren't a whit behind her. Edmund looked grouchy and scared. Susan was "thinky" and disbelieving. Peter was bossy and in over his head.
In the battle sequences, Edmund and Peter in armor looked like kids in armor. They didn't magically become battle-ready, child-prodigy warlords. They had greatness thrust upon them, and the shoes were too big. If you've got kids of your own, or if you ARE a kid, this is both terrifying and exhilarating. And there weren't any seams.
Probably the finest bit of seamlessness, however, was the creation of Aslan and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. These were the best "talking animals" I've ever seen on film. No seams at all -- they just WERE talking animals. Liam Neeson voiced Aslan, and I'm forever grateful that he has now been cast in an infinitely better"mentor" and "father-figure" role than that "Episode I" part upon which his talents were wasted. Aslan, after all, is EFFECTIVE.
If you have children, I believe this movie is quite safe for them to watch. The battle sequences are bloodless (there's a lot of crashing around, and it's quite furious, but this is NOT Kingdom of Heaven or Henry the Fifth) and while there's a lot of peril, there's a happy ending. Also, the kids in the story snap and argue and fight like siblings, but they also show love for each other, and pull together in ways we can only hope our own children will.
See it in theaters, and take your children. (Moment of hypocrisy: I'll be taking only my oldest to see this in the theater. The 2nd oldest is terrified of big, loud theaters, the 5-ish-year-old can't sit still to save her life, and the 3-year-old is THREE, for crying out loud.) Oh, and if you don't already have the books, it's not too late to order The Chronicles of Narnia** from Amazon for your kids (and yourself!) for Christmas. I've located our family's copies, and will be re-reading the series now for the first time since I was 13 years old.
*Note: The "knees" you think you see going backwards on unguligrade legs are actually ankles. The REAL knee is higher up, and bends forwards, just like yours. Here's a picture, courtesy of Animal Diversity Web.
**Another Note: The "Adult Edition" of The Chronicles of Narnia includes some explanatory essays, and is what I've linked above. The text of the stories remains unchanged. If you want JUST the stories, no commentary thank-you-very-much, a less expensive edition can be found here.
***And Yet Another Note: Students of literary criticism will no doubt take issue with my bandying about of the term "allegory" when discussing The Chronicles of Narnia. C.S. Lewis himself took issue with that, because in an allegory there is a one-to-one "mapping" of fiction to principle, and any such mapping attempt will fail between The Chronicles of Narnia and Christian canon. Lewis used the word "supposal" to describe what he was doing:
"I don't say. 'Let us represent Christ as Aslan.' I say, 'Supposing there was a world like Narnia, and supposing, like ours, it needed redemption, let us imagine what sort of Incarnation and Passion and Resurrection Christ would have there.'" -- C.S. LewisThis is all well and good, but for two things:
- Within the context of the supposal, there are story elements which ARE allegorical, and where a one-to-one mapping succeeds. Thus, there are allegories within the overarching story. A book need not be a cover-to-cover allegory in order to CONTAIN allegories.
- The lay reader won't know a supposal from a suppository. Any review written for lay readers must use colloquial terminology, pedantic ire notwithstanding. Hence I say "allegory."