. . . Not if you see it on the big screen, at least according to Hanna Rosin’s review, “How Hollywood Saved God” in The Atlantic Monthly.
While I am very much looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation of The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman, on the big screen this weekend (my first movie in the theater since . . . um . . . well, before I came to Boston, I swear on both volumes of my Shorter OED) it’s been interesting to hear some of the debate about the film, the books, and their treatment of religious issues. While I’m not sure I would go so far as to label it a “controversy,” as it was billed on this morning’s “On Point” discussion on NPR, it does seem to have stirred up a little, shall we say, dust in Catholic and Evangelical circles.
In the books on the other hand . . .
“On Point” actually had some extremely thoughtful guests (Ms. Rosin among them) who were discussing the theological themes in both His Dark Materials, the book trilogy, and the movie-makers decisions to elide most of the deeper re-workings of Biblical and spiritual themes. Professor of Religion Stephen Prothero won my heart with his passionate defense of literature as a way for young people to explore the Big Questions and engage in meaning-making for themselves, as well as his delight in Lyra, the series’ protagonist, as a feminist heroine:
My daughters get dressed up as Hermione for Halloween and for the Harry Potter parties, and you know Hermione is a wonderful character but she’s sort of carrying the water for Harry Potter, who gets to be the hero . . . and I love that about the books [that Lyra gets to be the heroine]. I think it’s wonderful to tell girls to question authority, to make a little trouble, to be suspicious when people talk in God’s name as if God is speaking to them through an earphone.
Even more radical, of course, is Pullman’s project of writing an “alternative Genesis” with Lyra as a new Eve whose initiation into sexual awareness is the catalyst for redemption. The narrative is an explicit “response to the church,” Rosin points out, drawing on her interviews with Pullman himself, “this idea of patriarchy and misogyny and the idea that she should be Eve, and she should re-write the story of Eve.”
“And I would argue,” Prothero follows up, “that what we have there is something quite like feminist theology . . . that we shouldn’t be thinking about God as this old man with a beard in the sky . . . why do we have to have the woman be the villain here? Why can’t she be the hero?” Amen.
Plus, I hear that seeing the daemons on screen is worth the price of a ticket. So see you at the theater!
As an aside: My one reservation about the books, incidentally, is the way they are being marketed–much like the Harry Potter books–to a pre-teen audience when they are actually much more dense and in some ways more frightening, than Rowling’s series.
Also, Tom Stoppard wrote one of the early screenplays–wouldn’t you love to have seen that version??!