Saturday, January 21, 2006

Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Sledgehammer.

Although this is probably getting late to the party, I managed to find some time to go and see Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. As can be expected, the following post is likely to contain quite a few spoilers so if you haven’t seen the movie as of yet I would suggest not reading any further.

Ok we’re all good then?

Let’s continue. Firstly, I have to give credit to the CGI and cinematography of the movie, which were both extremely well done and secondly because we get to see more New Zealand scenery (yay GO NZ!). Unfortunately for the movie, it suffered a lot from the sledge hammer manner that C.S. Lewis adds Christian imagery into Narnias fantasy. Additionally, Lewis relies on an almost dues ex machina like resurrection, which comes off as highly contrived and serves merely as part of his allegorical sledge hammer.

My problems with the movie are many, but my first comes from the scene that begins the movie and establishes the backdrop to which Narnia is set. It opens in World War 2 with the battle of Britain, where German bombers were carrying out their campaign to bury London under a storm of bombs. This scene is the most remarkable in the entire movie and actually does have a considerable emotional impact. It also set up an extreme feeling of irony for me, where four kids go into a magical closet to fight imaginary creatures all the while the greatest conflict in known human history rages in the background. Most unfortunately about this opening scene, is no other scene in the film manages to attain the same intensity or emotional significance as the opening.

After this particular scene we are treated to the four children (Peter, Edward, Susan and Lucy) being taken into the country to stay at the professors house. Here, we are treated to possibly some of the most incredibly generic stereotype characters that are going to have to carry the movie. Firstly, we have Peter who is the generic strong leader style character, Edmund who is the generic selfish fellow, Susan who is the logical one (that gets constantly derided throughout the film incidentally) and Lucy who is the small innocent child type. None of these characters comes off as being likable what-so-ever, in fact had the wolves got them early in the film I don’t think I would have blinked an eye.

Eventually, through a game of hide and seek we find the children entering the world of Narnia and generally exploring around. Turns out, surprise surprise, they are a part of some prophecy where two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve would return to Narnia and depose the evil White Witch. Now, the White Witch is basically the big evil Satan figure of the movie in keeping with C.S. Lewis’ decision to make his allegory to Christianity as obvious as possible. She is the one that keeps the world in an eternal winter, has a thing for having a secret police consisting of vicious wolves and bribes Edmund (the selfish kid) to betray the others with promises of Turkish delights.

Coincidentally the White Witch, wonderfully performed by Tilda Swinton, is by far the most convincing character in the movie and ironically comes off as the most likable. It’s a good thing for the movie that she gets a considerable amount of screen time as a result. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the remaining talking animals and the other human actors, which just come off as extremely unconvincing. In two scenes for example, one of the wolves (secret police) manages to get a solid hold on some of the kids various talking animal friends and then immediately after being let go the attacked animal reacts as if nothing has happened. This was rather jarring and just lessoned any impact the attack scene had to begin with.

When Santa Clause turned up and handed Peter, Susan and Lucy various weapons I was really beginning to wonder why I was still in the theatre. Inevitably, the ‘good guys’ manage to get to Aslan, who is assembling an army of good mythical beasties to fight the White Witches army of evil mythical beasties and they manage to get Edmund back along the way. Edmund has a stern talking to from Aslan, which of course solves the entire problem of him nearly getting them killed several times and then we have the thing that utterly demolished Narnia for me.

As I mentioned earlier, C.S. Lewis uses a heavy handed allegorical sledge hammer to bring across Christian principals in his writing. As the White Witch represents the devil, Aslan the lion is meant to represent a “Christ” figure by sacrificing himself in place of Edmund. Now he does this because the White Witch has rights to execute ‘traitors’ as is her right according to the ‘deep magic’ (or so). As a result, she wants to execute Edmund because he’s a general git and to stop the prophecy. Aslan, cunningly decides to put himself in Edmunds place as a sacrifice and is then shaved and killed. This scene would have probably had some impact, if it wasn’t for the fact Aslan just resurrects with a contrived ‘excuse’ and then runs off to basically kill the White Witch.

Here is where I take exception to both the dues ex machina nature of Aslans resurrection, which seems contrived as a way of getting back the character powerful enough to kill the White Witch and Aslan the lion as a “Christ” figure. Firstly, Jesus was no where near equivalent to the Aslan. Aslan is a massive, powerful animal that easily shreds his enemies to bits. Jesus as he came to us, was a man and God, but he was more of a lamb and not a lion. When he sacrificed his life for us, he did so not as a trick with the knowledge he would simply come back (see Aslans explanation to Susan and Lucy in the film) to whoop some Pontius Pilate arse.

The connection as a result is not just a bad comparison but rather is a terrible literary device on Lewis’ part. Essentially, the resurrection comes off as nothing more than a convenient way of killing the White Witch without needing to think of a way for the other characters, Peter and such, to do it themselves. Finally, the four children are then crowned as the new Kings and Queens of Narnia, which just ultimately seemed to cap off an overly silly series of events. At no point in the movie did I get an impression that the kids were under any real threat, because of the contrived nature of the way the movie sets up its various events and resolves them.

In all, I can say that I most definitely didn’t care for Narnia either as a form of allegory- as it is far too unsubtle like a sledge hammer beating the audience over the head- and as a piece of cinema on its own merits. Wooden performances from most of the cast with Susan and Peter in particular being notably tree like also did not help things much either. The saving performance of the movie was by far Tilda Swinton however, proving that every cloud has its silver lining. Perhaps if I was a lot younger, and didn’t think so much about the way the movie is constructed and why characters/events are portrayed I may have enjoyed it more. As it is, it seems contrived, overly ridiculous and too heavy handed in its allegory for me to have enjoyed.

Update: It turns out that in my utter disregard for the human characters in the film, I seem to have thought Edmund was Edward for some reason. Oh well, this most grevious error has now been fixed.