'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe'
Winner! Best Spiritual Film 2006
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Despite the old Hollywood adage, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union," most movies do have some kind of moral intention. In rare cases, this "message" is specifically religious; it aims to explore the tenets of a particular spiritual path. While many films of 2005 ably convey significant moral, and even spiritual, ideas, only one presents the core thesis of one of the world's great religions. "The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" is an adaptation of C.S. Lewis's slim book by the same name, and this fantasy tale includes a Christ-figure as well as a similitude of the crucifixion and resurrection.
So the movie, in addition to being a delightful adventure tale, also imagines how the basic events of Christian history might have played out in a different, parallel world. But the way the sacrifice made by this Christ-figure, Aslan, is understood in the story doesn't exactly match what every Christian would say. Lewis presents Aslan's death as a victory over the White Witch, possible because she failed to understand the "Deeper Magic." In this he echoes a very ancient view that is more common in the Eastern Christianity, less so in Euro-American varieties. This is just one example of the subtleties and complexities of this magical story.
"Narnia" is to be applauded for bringing to the screen and exploring the specific beliefs of a specific faith. Deeply held religious convictions affect a great deal of what goes on in the world, and as long as we cover this with a cotton-candy layer of, "Oh, we all really believe the same thing in the end"--a kind of intellectual imperialism--we will continue to be blindsided by unanticipated disagreement. Tolerance is worthless if it is not based on accurately understanding what, exactly, we're agreeing to tolerate. Films that clearly present and explore theological convictions help us all understand each other better, even when we still disagree.
"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" is a rousing adventure movie with good acting, great set design, and some spectacular effects. It would be just fine if that were all it was seen as. But we suspect it's not up for Best Spiritual Film of 2005 for those qualities. It's nominated because it's a well-known Christian allegory, and everybody can easily figure out that the noble lion Aslan is a Christ figure, a blood sacrifice who is resurrected.
But look closely. Would Christ advise Peter to always wipe his sword clean of blood? In the Gospels, after all, Jesus tells Peter to put away his sword. Would Jesus, who preached love of enemies, encourage Susan to send an arrow through the heart of the White Witch's sleigh-driver? When Aslan leaps upon the White Witch and kills her, are you reminded of the Jesus in the Gospels, a man who was decidedly nonviolent?
Despite its cinematic flourishes, the movie cannot compare to the slim and simple story C. S. Lewis penned. In the movie, Aslan is the star and the climax is a prolonged battle scene. In the book, the battle is almost an afterthought, a mere two pages, and the key dramatic line is what happens to Edmund--his seduction by the Witch due to his weaknesses, his betrayal of his siblings, his suffering as he discovers the error of his choice, his rescue, his repentance, and his reconciliation with his family. There is plenty of drama to hold our attention in the story of Edmund's transformation. But the movie makes him into little more than a petulant brat who never asks forgiveness but simply smiles when Aslan suggests there is no need to talk about the past.
Because it underplays this reconciliation theme and instead accentuates a violent and predictable battle, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" fails us dramatically and spiritually.