Sunday, December 11, 2005

Narnia Film: A Review

As my family, friends, and I walked out of Theater #10 of our local multiplex cinema last night, through the hallway that would take us to the lobby and out the front doors, I was quiet. I frankly didn't know what to say. I was thinking too much and I was feeling too much for me to be able to identify any one thing to articulate.

I had, in fact, sat mostly in silence while watching The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, various reactions washing over me as its classic story, with a few alterations, unfolded.

The first time I saw the beautifully-animated Aslan emerge from his tent and noticed the breeze catch hold of his glorious golden mane, a chill overtook me, every hair on my arms seeming to stand in awed attention, and tears came to my eyes.

Smiles and laughter inevitably rose in me when characters joked about commonplace things like a husband's expanding waistline. This movie is seasoned with generous, gracious humor.

Tears came again as I watched Aslan, the great Lion, give his life on the Stone Table for the once-treacherous Edmund.

I felt the same pang of sadness registering on the faces of Tumnus and Lucy as, shortly after the latter's coronation as one of Narnia's royal persons, they watched Aslan walk away, remembering that while Aslan wasn't a tame lion, he was good.

And as I watched the movie's final scene, I found myself yearning, like Lucy and Professor Kirk, to go to Narnia, not for Narnia itself, but for the chance that I too might encounter Aslan, the beautifully-wrought version of Christ created by writer C.S. Lewis in the seven books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia.

It's a yearning that fairly approximates the intense, soul-deep desire that literally haunts me every day of my life that I may one day see my Savior Jesus face-to-face, although like the characters in Lewis' wonderful books, I know that when I do finally gaze at Jesus, I'll feel overwhelming fear as well as overwhelming love until the moment I hear Him say to me, "Peace" and a pure love, unlike anything I've yet experienced in this life, will flood my being.

While those who brought The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the screen have made a number of changes in the telling of the story, none of its substance has been altered. (If you would like a more literal dramatic adaptation of the books, I advise listening to these CDs, to which I've listened many times. But of course, nothing can replace reading the original books by Lewis who, a professor of English at Ohio State once told me, wrote "like an angel.")

One of the most interesting additions the film makes to the story is its prelude, showing us something of the lives of the four English children who are the book's main characters just prior to their being sent to the country to avoid the German aerial bombardments of World War Two London. Later, in a Medieval-like battle scene, Peter, the oldest of the four children, soon to be enthroned High King of Narnia, uses talking birds to drop stones on his charging enemies, looking like the bombers we saw pictured at the movie's beginning.

The film though, is true to the book. It remains, in the hands of the filmmakers, a story of good versus evil; of redemption; of the importance for people of action to rely on Someone greater than themselves; and of unexpected, undeserved, unmatched, inexplicable grace.

The film is, in short, a moving adaptation of one of the greatest works in literature. I don't throw around superlative accolades, but I believe that it's destined to be regarded as a classic.

Even now words fail me in describing this film, though. Let me tell you instead what happened in that hallway as we left the theater. Several of our group and others around us were sharing their reactions to the film, when my wife turned to me and asked, "Well, Mark, what did you think?"

I tried to speak. But to my surprise, I began to weep. I was embarrassed, but the tears kept coming. Finally, all I could say, almost in a whisper, was, "It's beautiful. It's just so beautiful."

15 comments:

Spencer said...

Thank you for your review. Beautiful.
It's weird, I found myself beginning to well up at different points in the film too, and one was the first time we saw Aslan step out of the tent. I admire the fact that you surrendered to those emotions, because while I felt strange chills shoot through my own body at the scene, I was suddenly a little self conscious of my surroundings (Which is unusual, because I usually weep like a baby quite freely in movies: The scene at the end of 'The Life Aquatic' Where steve Zissou says, "I wonder if he remembers me." Gets me every time) And I'm a little embarrassed to say that I thought this, but part of me, somewhere, was like, 'You can't cry in a kid's movie.'
But I realize now, especially after reading your review that, while it may be a 'kid's movie' in the sense that I am a kid, flailing about in a world that so often makes so little sense to me, trying to force things to make sense and make solid connections to anything real, and this movie offers something real, and something solid. I left the theater with a sense of purpose, and a sense of pride in my God and my religion, but can't help but wish I had surrendered more to the moment.
I also wanted to let you know how wonderful It was to watch my son respond to the movie. It was the first time he'd heard the story of Narnia (first time for me too) and I've rarely seen him as animated in a movie. I was wondering how he was going to respond to Aslan's death scene, and what I should say, and when it came, I was lost for words really. His eyes got wet, and he looked at me and said, "I hate those people", and the words failed me. I just rubbed his back and tried to comfort both of us. Then when Aslan came back he looked at me with a bewildered smile and shrugged his shoulders. He was captivated from the beginning, something that suggests to me the timelessness of Lewis's story, and of course the truth at it's core.
I think your review was fantastic. Thank you.

Spencer Troxell

Mark Daniels said...

Spencer:
Lewis once said that he loved reading children's books as an adult. He said that as a grown-up, he was able to get more out of them because he had more life experiences to bring to them. I suspect that's true of all great literature.

In a later Narnia books, one of the children from our world returns and once again encounters Aslan. "Oh," she says, "you're bigger than you were before." True, Aslan says, as you grow bigger, I grow even bigger.

At the spiritual level, the problem with many "grown-ups" is that they try to face life with an understanding of God that suited them when they were children. They haven't bothered encountering God as He can be for them in their adult lives.

God, even more than great literature, becomes bigger in the eyes of those willing to know Him over time.

All of this may help to explain why a "kid's story" can so get to us, even when we're "grown-ups."

Thank you so much for reading the blog and for your comments, Spencer. God bless you and yours!

Mark

Tim Thompson said...

Mark,

I'm glad you enjoyed the movie and were moved by it. Not being anywhere as familiar with the books as you are, I was wondering what you would think of it. That you found it so good relieves me a bit because it seemed to me that it was fairly accurate (knowing the challenges of translating the written word to the screen.)

I love "fairy tales" when they relate good things like justice and mercy and integrity. This movie was just wonderful in its retelling of the gospel story. To see Aslan surrender his power and strength and submit to evil, in order to ultimately defeat that same evil left me in tears as well.

Thanks for the review. I'm glad the movie is a keeper.

Mark Daniels said...

Tim:
If you want a treat, take the time to read 'The Chronicles of Narnia,' all seven volumes. It won't take you long and it will enrich your spirit, I guarantee it.

Thank you for taking the time to post your comment.

God bless you!

Mark

Michael Wenberg said...

Mark, I appreciate your review. I am becoming an unabashed weeper as I get older, much to the discomfort of my teenage children. What makes this transformation even more unlikely, I suppose, is that I was raised in a stoic Swedish family. But life and its circumstances and God have had a way of changing me. In any case, my wife and enjoyed the movie together on our 28th anniversary. I thought it was delightful, and a wonderful movie version of the book, made easier for the filmmakers to pull off, I presume, because the book is fairly short, particularly when compared to a volume from "The Lord of the Rings" and other longer literary works that have been transformed into movies. Lately, I find that I am particularly taken by hopeless, heroic battles and causes. The make me feel almost young again. Life has a way of making me forget that we are all playing a part in a Cosmic battle. Lewis himself reminded his Christian readers that however comfortable our lives are that we shouldn't forget that we are really living behind enemy lines. And as much as I love "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," I was most moved long ago when I first read "The Last Battle." Charles Williams, a fellow member of the Inklings, also wrote some fiction that I still think about, 20 years after reading his works.

Mark Daniels said...

Michael:
Thank you so much for your comments!

Of the seven Narnia books, The Last Battle is my favorite. It is, as I think I've written here, the most sublime work of fiction and the most beautiful description of eternity I have ever read.

I've not read anything by Charles Williams, but will have to check it out.

Mark

Charlie said...

Your reactions to the movie, and Lewis' story, were just right, Mark.

I expected I would react just the same, but instead found myself disappointed, and oddly untouched emotionally by the film. I don't think the movie did a good job of investing the audience emotionally in the characters or the captivity of Narnia. If you don't know the story going in, I doubt that you could feel the despair of the long winter and the loss of what Narnia was like before the White Witch.

I felt that we really didn't get a sense of Edmund's betrayal, more just that he made a foolish mistake. And that made the scene where the witch demands his blood seem like nonsense.

All of this, for me, had to do with the way the film jumped from one action scene to another without enough time to let the characters talk about the deep magic, the winter spell, their values, and so on.

In the end, I thought it was a great children's movie, and the little kids around us loved it, but I thought it failed on a more adult level.

Mark Daniels said...

Charlie:
As I watched the movie, I occasionally stewed over the question of whether the uninitiated would "get it." But as Spencer's comments above seem to indicate, even those who have never read the books seemed to understand what was going on.

That may not universally be the case, though.

As always, thanks for dropping by and leaving your thoughtful comments!

God bless!

Mark

xianfu said...

As I watched the movie Narnia, I wasn't thinking much.. Only when the part White Witch stabs Edmund..and Peter attacks the White Witch back..I feel that scene is so heroic.. Ur review is just amazing! My friend told me about the books.. 7 of them.. As my exam is coming, I have to sacrifice to read them..Can't wait!!! Do leave a comment at my blog.. Merry Christmas, Best Wishes...

Mark Daniels said...

xianfu:
Thank you so much for stopping by and for leaving your comments. Enjoy the books; I think that you will love them!

God bless you.

Mark

Julana said...

I also could have cried a number of times, if I had let myself go. I was just amazed at how Christian the imagery was. I had not remembered it as being so obvious. So often, I felt like, "yes, yes, yes, it was true all along."

Mark Daniels said...

Julana:
It is an incredibly moving film. Thanks for your comments!

Mark

Rick Moore said...

Mark-

I voted for you over at Radioblogger. Don't forget to mention to your readers that you're in the running for one of those radios (I've got one, but I still don't know what to do with it).

Mark Daniels said...

Rick:
Thanks for that. I've never really solicited votes for my blog before, but now that you've encouraged me, I may just have to do it. I hope that you're feeling better, my friend.

God bless!

Mark

Lores Rizkalla said...

Wonderful review, Mark! I completely concur with the so much of what you shared. Everything from the emotions of seeing Aslan the first time, and every time after that, to wanting to get into the wardrobe at the end of the movie.

Excellent!

I, too, voted for you. And, like Rick, I have one and am not doing much with it. However, the airtime on Radioblogger is very cool :)