The much anticipated and much advertised Chronicles of Narnia (Part One) of C.S. Lewis have finally hit the movie theaters, and judging by the initial weekend this movie will be a box office success. Christians of course have been apprehensive about Disney being the ones who filmed this wonderful tale, as this is not a fairy tale or a cartoon nor even a fantasy really and sometimes Disney has managed to offer up some pretty unseemly fare of late. Apprehension then is understandable when its the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that Disney is filming. It is a Christian allegory, with Aslan the lion playing the part of Christ. I am happy to report that all is well. While the Christian theme is not played up any more than it is in Lewis's book, it is also not sublimated either--- thanks be to God.
My own reservations about this movie from the start were whether the CG Aslan would really do the ole boy justice. I am happy to report that the movie does not come off hokie, but in fact is beautifully filmed and is true to the story. You will remember that when the film gets into high gear, once the children discover Narnia through the Wardrobe, Narnia is not in good shape. As it is well announced "here it is always winter and never Christmas" a sad state of affairs, which those who close churches on Christmas ought to think about.
Once again, as in the Lord of the Rings, good is good and evil is evil, even when it can be tempting and alluring (with the help of some Turkish delight). There are no moral ambiguities really explored in this tale, but rather the story is about the deep magic, the miracle really that changes human nature and the course of human history-- namely the freely given sacrifice of love and of the Beloved-- Aslan.
The movie really does not come across as a CG type movie, not least because the characters like Mr. Tumnus are of course part human, as are most of the characters except Aslan, and also because unlike the battle at Mordor, or the Dark Tower, here the great battle takes place in Julie Andrews territory ala The Sound of Music--- in dazzling sunlight in a beautiful Alpine glen (it would be nice to know where this was shot). Lewis, like Tolkien his fellow Inkling, loved the mythological creatures like fawns and centaurs, and we have them in abundance in this film along with more quaint creatures like talking beavers :) The children are entertained and the parents will be amused.
The Pevensie children are played admirably by actors and actresses most will not know, but especially winsome and wonderful is the young girl who plays Lucy the true believer with wide eyed wonder. You get the feeling this is what Jesus had in mind when he said "unless you turn and become as a child, you shall not enter the Kingdom of God". Edmund is also well played as the black sheep of the family who must be rescued from his lying and selfishness and turns heroic in the end. One of the more telling moments in the movie is when Peter the eldest child says that Edmund went wrong in part due to his own fault, his not always being a help or an encouragement to a younger brother. In an age of "it wasn't me" pleas in our country, this is refreshing and reminds us that we are indeed our brother's and sister's keepers.
But there are much more profound theological lessons in this tales two of which must be mentioned here. The first is Lewis' profound conviction that "we are all in this together" by which I mean he stresses that the whole of creation is feeling the effects of the fall and all of it, including nature must be redeemed. Romans 8 has a good deal to say about this if we would but listen-- "for the creation was subjected to frustration not by its own choice... but in hope, that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God" (vss. 20-21). Lewis also stresses that humans are the crown of creation, meant to rule over it. Though he loved an animated creation and creatures, he did not worship Mother Nature nor think that humans are merely a part of nature.
The second major theme, is that indeed there is a deep moral logic undergirding and overseeing the world, and that when the times are out of joint, they must be set right. But that which sets things right is a free act of sacrificial love, which while not setting things back like they were before the fall, instead carries creatures and creation to a whole new act of creation. For Lewis it was crucial that the act of Christ be totally a free and self-giving one. In others, for Lewis for it truly to be a loving act, it needed to not be a predestined or predetermind act. Lewis believed that predetermination and love were incommensurate concepts at least when it comes to human beings and their destiny and opportunity for loving relationship with God and with each other. Especially telling in this version of the Christian story is that Aslan dies in particular for Edmund-- Edmind the liar and betrayer. Jesus himself reminds us in the 4th Gospel that while a person might die for their friends or for a good person, but who would die for a betrayer or liar or enemy? The answer is Jesus would, showing that his love is pure grace--- unmerited favor freely bestowed, undeserved benefit freely given.
There are lots of Christian touches in the movie that the astute reader will pick out, like the fact that Aslan revives God's frozen people by breathing on them (see Jn. 20) or like the moment at the end of the battle where Aslan kills the witch and says "It is finished" (see Jn. 19). It becomes clear that this Christ figure owes most to the Gospel of John. Let us hope that the Christian themes of the movie are not so unobtrusive that audiences will largely be oblivious to them. Let us hope they at least fall in love with true goodness and beauty and thereby with truth. Let us hope enough go to see this movie, that the next episode in the Chronicles of Narnia will be a lovingly and well filmed.
A long time ago a newspaper man was fired from the Asheville N.C. newspaper for doodling-- drawning little pictures of mice and ducks and dogs. This man was Walt Disney. Walt Disney was a man with a remarkable imagination, like C.S. Lewis, and he put it to good use. There was something redemptive about even his most frivolous cartoons. Let us hope the post-Walt Disney will learn something from the response to this film and make more like it, stories that do have "some redeeming value". If so, it will be a return to form and Walt would be thrilled. In this post-modern age the rebirth of imagination is what we should expect and what the most Creative One of all would want.