Nettes & I recently had a night out watching the Golden Compass, the first film adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s trilogy: His Dark Materials, thanks to Ruth who babysat for us. Being a fan of science fiction/fantasy and having read these brilliantly written thought provoking novels some years ago I certainly enjoyed this adaptation. It is never quite the same watching a film after reading the books, the story did seem to whiz by far too quickly and I must admit to feeling a little cheated as the final scenes of the first novel have been held over to the next film. Nevertheless it was acted, well written and the special effects were breathtaking. I would say that it is well worth seeing.
It is not surprising that some Catholic organisations are calling for a boycott of the film as the baddies are a religious authority albeit in the film called the Magisterium rather than the Church. One thing I enjoy about His Dark Materials is the way that it shows that there is a place in our culture for stories that discuss serious issues in allegorical ways. I just cannot understand Christians who demand boycotts or banning of something just because they might disagree with its message. But as it is a children’s film the question this raises is if we disagree with its message should we take our kids to see it? If you watched the film you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Many films rely and magic and portray behaviour that we wouldn’t encourage in real life. What is disturbing about these stories is much more subtle than this.
You see there is actually a lot in these novels that is good but there is a sting in the tail, so to speak. Pullman critiques the abuse of religious power well even exposing that the force behind it is spiritual and that it can give a false hope in the afterlife. I think that we must be careful not to misunderstand and therefore defend what Pullman rightly criticises. I would see the story as a modern day allegory akin to the fall of Babylon in Book of Revelation or Jesus' parables that criticised the Pharisees. What Pullman offers as an alternative to this false belief in the end is a belief in human freedom. This is a good point but it ultimately stops short the true spirituality that is my own experience. It is not really until the final pages that Pullman’s fervent atheism becomes crystal clear as he preaches, and he does preach, about the ‘Republic of Heaven’ which is ultimately a secular humanist message that I must reject.
This raises an important question of to what extent we should shelter our children from ideas, messages and worldviews with which we differ. On one hand we have a responsibility to teach what we believe to be the truth. But on the other we need to make it plain that there are many other beliefs and ideas out there. They need to be familiar with these if they are ever going to have an impact for God. And as they learn about these we need to trust God that he will lead them into the truth. There are dangers in not letting our children watch the movie that we appear like the Magisterium who hush up dangerous thoughts. Yet if we do choose to encourage seeing this movie we would need to feel conversant enough with the issues raised to be able to discuss them meaningfully with our children and to encourage them to discuss this story with others putting forward their faith as the true answer. With older children who are already secure in there faith this could be helpful both as a critique of power abuse and as a discussion starter with their friends as long as parents are willing and able to enter into these sort of discussions with their children.
So should you take your kids to see it? You've heard what I think. Here are two very good articles discussing the issue further. Kester Brewin says yes. Simon Dillon says no. The choice is yours.