Movie Reviews

No ‘happily ever after’ in Pullman’s ‘Compass’

by Msgr. Eric Barr

Whoa! Armored warrior bears! How cool is that! Add flying witches and airborne schooners along with one’s soul which lives outside of your body in an animal shape called a daemon (demon) that walks by your side—and…wow!

You’ve got yourself one heck of a Christmas film. Simply beautiful to look at — sort of like the forbidden fruit on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. Looks great but in the end, nothing there, only despair.

People are just becoming aware of the latest blockbuster from New Line Cinema, now out for the Christmas holidays.

Headed by an all-star cast including Nicole Kidman, “The Golden Compass” is the first installment in the adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy (the other two books are “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass”).

New Line has sanitized the first book and removed some of the overt anti-Christian propaganda from it, yet no matter how much one sugarcoats this fruit, the bitterness of this poisoned apple remains.

There has never been a more anti- Catholic/Christian fantasy than this trilogy upon which the movie is based.

Satirizing sin, sacraments and a Supreme Being, Pullman glorifies a concept of freedom that is little more than being a slave to one’s passions.

Freedom, for him, is the ability to do what one wants rather than decid- ing to do what is right and good. Pullman, an avowed atheist, hates Tolkien and Lewis’ works precisely because they are favorable to Christianity. He has sought to create a fantasy totally the opposite of what Narnia and Middle Earth represent.

Even “The Golden Compass,” the most benign of the three books, is rather dismal and joyless. When the main enemy is the church (in the film, it’s called the Magisterium — how’s that for sanitizing!) and the fantasy becomes a rant against original sin, God, eternal life — all that Catholic Christian stuff — one wonders if the story has been replaced by some propaganda piece of atheism.

Pullman’s title for his trilogy comes from John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost,” the tale of Satan’s fall and temptation of humanity.

Pullman thinks the wrong side won the war for heaven. In his novels, he wants the bad guys to succeed where Satan once failed.

In fact, the novels incarnate the words Satan says in Milton’s poem as the fallen angel shakes his fist at God. “Evil be thou my good,” says Satan.

Pullman has been quoted as saying, “My books are about killing God” and “I am of the devil’s party and I know it.”

A total shift of values is what Pullman is after. Insidiously, he seeks to plant these values in our hearts through stories meant for children. That is perverse. To take advantage of the innocent to turn them to what humanity has always labeled evil is the height, or depth, of degradation.

Clearly, the film and the books it is based upon are an attack on Christianity and the values Christ taught.

When the Harry Potter series came out, similar concerns were raised about the suitability of such literature. Harry’s a piker compared to Pullman. The movies and books about the child wizard were pretty harmless. Pullman’s work is not.

The question all parents need to answer is quite simple: Is this what we want our children to see and read?

Let those who possess the tools to adequately evaluate Pullman’s work read the books and see the film. But innocent kids who don’t have those skills ought to be protected from doorways that lead to darkness.

Pullman opens a passageway to hell. The film “The Golden Compass” looks pretty, but that doesn’t change the underlying message.

If movies will be made of the other two books in the trilogy, we will all be treated to the child “heroes” killing God and releasing souls stuck in a miserable afterlife so that they can be absorbed by the cosmos. How’s that for a happy ending?

How successful the film will be is problematic. The promotional trailer is lush and the special effects excellent, but the story seems convoluted. After one gets over the visuals, it’s hard going slogging through the plot lines.

Will a film based on a book that denies God and goodness as we know it really appeal to children? Doubtful.

But parents who do not do their homework may simply see a well-produced movie and then buy the books for their kids to read, never knowing they are doing the intellectual equivalent of sending young ones out to play in the traffic, thinking they won’t get hurt.

In the end, if a fairy tale doesn’t bring joy and hope, it isn’t much of a fantasy. With no God, no good, no eternal life, there is no living happily ever after in the world of “The Golden Compass.”

Pullman only seeks to give us hell, and seems pleased to bring it, making concrete the old cliche that misery truly loves company.

Msgr. Eric Barr is vicar for clergy and religious for the Diocese of Rockford, Ill. Reprinted with permission from the Rockford Observer.

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Leave a Comment