A few days back I mentioned that Maggie and I had seen the Golden Compass during our overnight stay in Effingham. Because there have been some efforts encouraging Christians to boycott this film (you can even buy a boycott t-shirt!), I was particularly curious to see what the hype was about. In this post I’d like to share my thoughts about a potential Christian response to the film. First a couple of disclaimers…
First, I enjoyed the film. My only complaint from a story-telling perspective was the few places where it seemed clear the writers had to speed through the back-story that is undoubtedly more detailed in the book. Otherwise, the events of the film carried along well and sucked me into the adventure. My wife, who has a better eye for these things, thought the young Dakota Richards as Lyra Belaqua was particularly good.
Second, I’m not really a boycott kind of guy. If a company or nation is taking advantage of it’s employees or citizens, than I might sign up… but probably not for a film. Just being honest. I’m OK with the boycott folks- have some friends in that camp- it’s just not me.
On to the film itself. It seems the primary concern that some Christians have about the Golden Compass has to do with its portrayal of the church. The movie is an adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy in which The Magesterium stands in for the Christian Church. The Magesterium is a dominant and secretive organization that claims to be the authority on all things religious and powerful.
Sitting in the theater I wondered, “What in this story should I feel threatened by?” I suppose the portrayal of The Magesterium may feel dangerous to some, but I’m not sure it should. In fact, if the church were behaving in the ways portrayed on screen, I think the Christian response would be to oppose such behavior. History is filled with stories of Jesus-followers who question the church (and others in positions of power) when power is abused and people manipulated.
Without sounding too over the top, the Golden Compass reminded me of Jesus’ often harsh and subversive response to those in religious and political power in his day. In many ways, the response of those who oppose The Magesterium seems to be a very Christian way of acting.
Apparently the next two books in the trilogy take on even more religious themes. Given Pullman’s atheistic world view, it is wise to watch and observe with care. But for the Christian is that not true of all media? Should we not always do our best to watch the directions our culture’s stories are going?
A final thought. Apparently for Pullman, and likely many others, The Magesterium is an adequate metaphor for the church today. As followers of Jesus we can dispute this, attempt to disprove it, or even come up with our own movie to paint ourselves in a better light. But what if we paused for a moment and asked if there might be any truth in the metaphor? Perhaps in the Golden Compass we catch a reflection of what we have at times been, or at least how many see us. Rather than turn away- or boycott- maybe we could look more closely and be reminded of what we are and what we must not be.
I hope some thoughtful Christians will see this film. I hope they’ll talk with their neighbors and coworkers who’ve seen it. I hope they’ll listen to what their friends thought about the story. And, should the opportunity present itself, I hope they’ll get to talk about why a community that follows Jesus looks nothing like The Magesterium portrayed in the Golden Compass.