Round-Table Discussion on The Golden Compass
- Thursday, December 06, 2007
To the movie, I was surprised at how edited, how truncated the story is. So much less depth. We’d heard from the producers that any anti-Christian elements had been toned down, but in fact, the Magisterium is a more obvious ‘villain’ in the film than in the book (though I grant that’s probably a necessary conceit in making a movie, which I find ironic in this case). We’d also heard the film would end before the book does, which is a huge disappointment since that's where, in the book, most of the objectionable or controversial material is. I suspect that folks who walk out of a movie theater wondering what the big deal is will, if the sequels are made, find themselves very surprised at where the second movie goes.
MK: Yes, the movie cuts off the last three chapters of The Golden Compass, and those last three chapters deliver a swift slap to the Christian reader. It is one thing to write from an anti-Christian point of view, but it is downright insulting to discover a re-written version of Genesis 3 and then read an “interpretation” of that re-written scripture that states, in part, God must be sinful. That irritated me more than anything else.
SJ: He really is using his storytelling abilities to bait. So when he plops something down about the Church or Lyra or spirituality, you're expected to accept that. But when you take away all the enticing fantastical elements, he has set up a world where Christianity is at odds with science, intellectual thought, sexual fulfillment, free will... Pullman knows he has some ammunition (the Church is an easy target for failures that have happened). But he misrepresents. As Christians, the Church is the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ. You can't misrepresent the Church without misrepresenting Christ.
SM: Did you notice how in the book every time there was a church building nearby, it was referred to as an “oratory,” and not as a church? The impression I got was that Pullman was saying these are just the places where people spout meaningless words.
Are Christians overreacting by sending warning emails and boycotting the film?
MK: In terms of overreacting, it depends on who you are and what your purposes are. This story really can be a great tool for Christians who are informed and equipped to handle the deeper issues. The initial emails we all got were typically misinformed and alarmist in nature, but there is truth in them, because there are troubling elements in The Golden Compass. But as far as "Don't read the book or see the movie," there really isn't a simple answer to that. There needs to be an intelligent response. We need to be better informed as Christians. When asked, "Why aren't you seeing this movie?" saying, "Because I got an email saying I shouldn't" is not a good response.
SM: When I purchased the book and the clerk asked if I was going to see the movie, a fellow shopper said politely, "Oh, then you must be a horrible person." He was being sarcastic, obviously aware of the objections Christian groups have raised. It made me sad, both that we've caused people to believe that's what we think of them if they see it, and that people really just think we have our dander up without having a reason. "Oh, if those Christians fear this or don't like this, it must be good and worth seeing." I mean look, Pullman has not been secret about what his intentions and beliefs are. If someone had purposed to bring down everything you hold not only dear but personal (not to mention true), you might just want to raise an alert about it.
SJ: We need to be careful. There are two reactions I think Pullman would enjoy: burn his book, denounce it... or apologize for it, say it’s tamer or more innocent than it really is. So you want to respond, but you want to respond intelligently. Informing parents that this is probably not a good choice of movie for your child is important. But in terms of the cultural phenomenon, shutting it out entirely is not a productive response. If anything, it plays into Pullman’s idea that Christians are not intellectual, not free to engage and discuss.
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