June 1, 2008 by Korshi
The Lion, the Witch on the Wardrobe has just finished on Channel 9, to be replaced by a programme about Alaskan crab fishing (the most dangerous job in the world, apparently,), and I saw the premier of Prince Caspian last weekend, so I was inspired to write an impromptu post. They’re both pretty good films in my opinion; the first one didn’t quite live up to recent epic fantasy but on a second view I was able to chill out and enjoy it a bit more.
I grew up watching the old BBC dramatisations and reading the books (although I never liked The Horse and His Boy , or got round to the apocalyptic Last Battle), so it was always going to be hard for me to accept a new version. Aslan doesn’t seem majestic enough, and while the BBC Aslan of my memory spoke in a regal growl the new Disney/Walden one sounds suspiciously like Liam Neeson.
Tilda Swinton makes a great White Witch though, one minute androgynously sexual and the next eerily maternal towards the boys in the movie. I was trying to figure out why the designers had chosen to give her dreadlocks and braids though; to give a whiff of ethnic, pagan wickedness in contrast to the very English heroes? Still, she’s a fun villain, and when she tries to persuade Prince Caspian to resurrect her to fight his uncle in the second film I (and probably most of the audience) was hoping he’d do it.
But of course, Prince Caspian was written before moral ambiguity was acceptable in kid’s storytelling, and we have to wait until the too cutesy Lucy decides to put her faith in Aslan and asks the lion for help… like the dad in Arrested Development he’s busy teaching the kids a lesson, something along the lines of “That’s what happens when you try to do things yourself!” It would probably have been more narratively satisfying if they had called on the Witch for help, and more true to life; war in the real world is at best a moral grey area, and Hiroshima and Dresden are more White Witch than Aslan. Lewis, a great writer, seems to have a number of blind spots, and the casual (bloodless) killing throughout the Narnia films is one of them. (Another one is making all his Scottish characters cantankerous old bastards.)
So if Aslan is Jesus, then the White Witch is the devil; My gender studies class must be getting to me, because it seems like quite a lot of depictions of Satan are female these days- The Passion of the Christ, The Last Temptation of the Christ, Bedazzled. Maybe the temptation to conflate the two villains of Christianity- Eve and Satan, is increasingly irresistible.
Another thing that occurred to me was Santa; isn’t he a human? And if so, shouldn’t he be a king of Narnia too? Then I realised that he was Father Christmas, so probably more like a pagan god… which in Lewis’ stories tend to be good guys, like his satyrs and centaurs, as long as they don’t get worshipped like the capital-G God. I’ve been reading a bit of Lewis recently, so I could see a few themes from other works: his idea of the Tao, a universal law of nature, from the Abolition of Man, is echoed in the Deep Magic of Narnia; and his concern with believing despite lack of evidence, or at least lack of unambiguous evidence, is the central theme of Til We Have Faces. As a prolific pop-apologist, Lewis was very much concerned with why people believe, or don’t believe; I wonder if he ever got to the bottom of it.
Where am I going with these ramblings? Nowhere really… Prince Caspian is a good film for the kid’s fantasy it is. The moral message is a bit confused, but less heavy handed than in the first story; The effects and action are great, the characterisation satisfying. The producers do a good job of juggling their audience’s expectations; Christians get subtle admonitions to “believe”, skeptics get a cynical dwarf not all that impressed with the patronising kids and lion. I miss the old giant Reepacheep, along with Doctor Who and Monkey one of the heroes of my childhood, but I can forgive it for the cool griffins. I award this film 7.5 talking animals out of 10.