Sunday, 4 January 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

This was one of my 2008 reviews, first published elsewhere.

Prince Caspian, Disney’s second film in the Chronicles of Narnia series, was one of the biggest hits of 2008, which means you’ve probably seen it already (if such films interest you). And if you have read some of my other reviews, you already know why Prince Caspian was such a huge disappointment for me, though it wasn’t all bad.

Actually, I think Prince Caspian is a better film than its predecessor (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), if measured by the usual standards of filmmaking achievement. I particularly enjoyed the darker somber atmosphere (though this contrasts markedly with the children’s book on which it is based) and the gorgeous cinematography. The score was appropriately grand and the acting was adequate, though by no means outstanding. The direction by Andrew Adamson was tighter the second time around and the film had its entertaining and funny moments (especially those involving Reepicheep, the mouse).

But the film also has many flaws. The plot was much too thin for an adventure film (perhaps that’s because it was turned into a standard medieval battle film), the character development was minimal (and rather boring) and the last half-hour capped the story in a way that is surely making C.S. Lewis (the author of the book) want to cry out from heaven in protest.

The story, such as it is, concerns the return of the four Pevensie children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) to Narnia, where they discover that 1300 years have passed since their previous visit. During their absence, the Narnians have been all but wiped out by a race of humans called Telmarines, and Aslan (the lion who represents Jesus in Narnia) has not been heard from. Thus begins the grand battle to retake Narnia for the Narnians, led by the Pevensies and Prince Caspian, a Telmarine who is sympathetic to Narnians and whose uncle wants to kill him.

Early in the film, Prince Caspian tells his new Narnian friends that they need soldiers and weapons. Like the world in which certain contemporary politicians live, Narnia is apparently not a place where diplomacy is an option. It’s an evil vs. good, us vs. them world and the only option is to use violence to wipe the dehumanised enemy off the face of the earth.

The film is absurdly inconsistent in its attitude toward war and violence. Scenes in which Edmund describes the war and killing as abominable and Caspian tells his uncle he (Caspian) is not a killer like him are followed by a scene in which Edmund and the prince charge gleefully into battle, shouting “For Aslan!” as they begin slaughtering the enemy. The film is also inconsistent in its vain attempt to avoid black and white depictions of the Telmarines (who look dangerously like Arabs). The shades of grey are evident but make no sense whatsoever.

But the most disturbing thing about Prince Caspian is that it will be seen as a good Christian family film because it is the work of a Christian author. I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis and the Narnia books, which I read to my children before they were ten. Prince Caspian is a light-hearted book in which Reepicheep hurts no one, the final battle lasts just a few short pages, and Aslan brings the battle to an end without violence. In contrast, in Prince Caspian (the movie), Reepicheep kills many with his two-inch sword, the final battle is long and climactic, and Aslan calls upon the forces of nature to help wipe out the enemy to end the battle. This ending completely undermines the only spiritual plot development, in which Lucy argues with her brothers about putting their faith in Aslan and her brothers ignore her and put their faith in their heroic military might. In the end, the brothers need Aslan to save them but there is no sense that Aslan disapproves of their lack of faith or their use of violence.

While Lewis was certainly not a pacifist (indeed, some of his early writings seem to glorify war), I cannot but believe he would be horrified to see how Disney has created a war movie out of his children’s book. And, aside from Lucy’s struggle with her and her brothers’ faith, I saw nothing I would call Christian in Prince Caspian. But I saw much which I would call the opposite of Christian, like the message that the peaceable kingdom is only achieved through war.

Yes, I am, of course, talking about redemptive violence again. I wish we lived in a world that wasn’t so blind to the way violence permeates global politics and where the majority of Christians didn’t so easily accept the necessity of that violence. Then I would believe those who say that children are not negatively influenced by the redemptive violence in children’s films. Until I live in such a world, I will continue to say: If we want future generations to live in a violent world, where war is the norm, where people are dehumanised and there can be no diplomacy, where might makes right, where killing and death is preferable to surrender and compromise, then by all means let’s keep feeding our children on redemptive violence. If that’s not the kind of world we want, then I believe that we must be willing to expose and challenge what others do not see, as Jesus did.

In the meantime, if your children have not yet seen Prince Caspian, don’t let them go alone (i.e. you’ll want to talk with them about it afterwards).

I gave Prince Caspian **+. My mug is draining fast.

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