Wednesday, December 14, 2005

13 Kislew 5766/14 December 2005: Barry criticizes the new Narnia movie


Reminder: Enter the The Weird Thing of the Day Dune Fantastic Religion Contest for a chance to win fame and glory, and to get to pick the weird thing of the day for a week.

Today’s weird thing is a critical review of the new The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe movie written by Barry, included below. Barry brings a rather unique (and probably unintended) perspective to what the producers may have had in mind. Enjoy.


I know that the movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe just released is being highly touted by right-wing Christians and was even underwritten by a major campaign supporter of George W. Bush. However, I do feel it compelled to point out that under this allegedly wholesome and proper movie, there are some rather unsettling elements:

1) Lucy is an idiot. After going to Narnia the first time and it being made very clear that her presence there has put Tumnus in grave danger, she instead goes back and visits him again, as if Narnia was just a playground and it was no big deal. At the very least, Mr. Tumnus should suffer a nasty and irreversible death rather than the happy ending portrayed to properly drive home the point that stupidity like this kills, rather than sending such a mixed message as the movie does that somehow one can make up for revealing someone as a traitor to a repressive government.

2) The use of the name “Edmund” is lame. See the use of it in “King Lear”, from which others have also drawn for traitorous characters (e.g., Guiding Light). “Peter” is also obvious and lame in this context.

3) Edmund’s motivation at times seems strained. Why does he wait so long to do anything about the White Witch when it is clear to him that she’s the bad guy very early? And why would he run away to her if he clearly hasn’t delivered his siblings and she’s clearly the bad guy?

4) The costume designer has issues with breasts. Although the White Witch showed skin on her neck and shoulders, other parts that might have been seen were not. This alone was not terrily suspicious (it is, after all, a movie obstensibly aimed at children), but for much of the movie she wore an outfit that was shaped and padded to specifically hide the shape of her breasts. The only shot of them was a bit of cleavage viewed from above, and given the rest of the film, one gets the impression it was an accident. That women have breasts is generally obvious even with clothing, which usually provides some hint at the shape of the underlying structure. Going to great lengths to hide breasts, however, is pathological. This problem with adult femininity would be consistent with C. S. Lewis’ own mistreatment of Susan in later books over her maturing, and with the problem below it becomes extremely creepy.

5) Mr. Tumnus, a “faun” (satyr), runs around the whole movie with neither shirt nor pants. Not only does this expose the characters to experiences of questionable value (I am sure Lucy would have gotten a great view of his goat genitalia), but he also provides eye candy for heterosexual females and homosexual males. Thus he may be seen as contributing to the delinquency of these groups (and how shameful it is to lure these people to see allegedly wholesome entertainment and potential remption through Christ, only to inflame their lusts and lead them to sin in their hearts and possibly elsewhere when they leave the theater), but it also suggests that, given men largely made the film, and they deliberately hid female breasts while flaunting a naked male body around onscreen, these men might be doing one heck of a lot of sublimating of desires contrary to their beliefs.

6) Aslan (pronounced as AHZ-lahn rather than the more suggestive ASS-lahn) has been absent from Narnia for one hundred years. If he is so good, why was he gone and why did he allow such awful things to happen in his absence? Overall, Aslan’s presence in the story is relatively small, his motivations are largely unclear, and compared to the children (or even the beavers) he is bland and boring. What is really so great about this lion?

7) There is no way that Peter could ever stand a chance against anyone in a swordfight who has had a hundred years more to practice.

8) Why are all the other creatures so powerless against the White Witch? Must everyone sit on their haunches and twiddle their paws until the prophecy says the time is right to correct injustice?

9) The sacrifice and resurrection of Aslan depends solely on circumstances peculiar to the story to occur; had Lewis not specically arranged for Edmund to betray the good guys and need to be sacrificed, for Aslan to allow himself to be exchanged for Edmund, and for the deep magic arranged in a specific, peculiar way, this sequence of events would not have been able to occur. In real life, someone trying to do what Aslan did would be suicide (cf. A Tale of Two Cities). Are children supposed to get the message that they must throw their lives away?

10) The story has some sexist elements. Susan and Lucy get treated relatively second-class compared to Aslan and Peter, and even screw-up Edmund gets a second chance he clearly does not deserve. The White Witch, of course, is quite evil (and, oddly, gives probably the best performance in the movie) though her motivations are never explained. Would anyone give the White Witch a chance to reform? Perhaps if we knew her better? Of course, if we truly were given a chance to understand her, would we necessarily view her as so evil?

11) There are arguably quasiracist elements in the story as well, with allegiances being divided up along species lines.

12) The story was extremely violent in parts and as nearly as graphic as The Lord of the Rings. In some cases the images were disturbing, such as one scene where a griffin is petrified by the White Witch in midair and, crashing, shatters. The sacrifice of Aslan was also pretty disturbing. One wonders what the parents hyping this movie would say about a video game with similar violent scenes but without the crypto-Christian content? Is killing okay so long as it is infidels who die? Whatever happened to the injunction to turn the other cheek?

13) If the animals in Narnia all talk and are intelligent beings like humans, what do the carnivores eat? If they eat other intelligent beings, wouldn’t that make them akin to murderers and cannibals?

14) Why does the professor side with Lucy? Lucy, after all, makes a fantastic claim which is contrary to experience and cannot provide evidence otherwise. Are we to accept ridiculous claims merely because they are made by family members?

15) Since when did Father Christmas/Santa Claus hand out weapons?

16) Short of Edmund’s ambivalence (necessary for Aslan to sacrifice himself), the characters are either all good or all evil, with no shades of gray. Needless to say, the world does not work this way, and it a poor model for anyone trying to understand people if they must shove them into only two categories. Edmund’s ambivalence at least in part depends on conflicting motivations, which makes him more interesting than his siblings, who are all largely dull characters.

Summary: Since when did simplistic pigeonholings of people, sexism, reckless endangerment of people’s lives, graphic violence, abandonment of people by a leader to suffer needlessly, fatalism, encouraging suicide, and repressed homosexuality make for wholesome family entertainment?

My commentary on the commentary: Concerning the possible paranoia in the Witch’s wardrobe and obliviousness with regard to the faun’s complete lack of a wardrobe: Perhaps the Witch, “knowing good and evil”, is uncomfortable with her sexuality and thus goes to great lengths to hide her body. Mr. Tumnus, however, is still in that state of innocence which Adam and Eve enjoyed before the Fall; as such, he finds nothing wrong with walking around naked, even though it makes clear to everyone (or at least ought to) he is a sexual being. Considering that Aslan, who is essentially Jesus, also walks around naked, C. S. Lewis is telling us that true holiness involves being completely comfortable with our sexuality and thus that public nudity is not only acceptable, but also ideal.

(On the other hand, perhaps on this point C. S. Lewis and the people who made this movie simply did not think things through...)
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