Boycotting the Boycott: Why I Plan on Watching The Golden Compass
I must admit, I love movies. Case in point, when I began working full-time this semester, I had to trim my four master's level classes down to one, and the one I chose to keep was Christianity and Film. It was a fantastic class that opened my mind to new cinematic horizons. We studied the technical specifications of movies like shots and angles, we took a brief foray through the history of film, and then we spent the bulk of the semester focusing on that wild and varied thing that is the Jesus film genre. The course's "big picture," however, was how to engage films. How should a Christian encounter the medium? What should our response and reaction be? How should we contribute? How should we reflect and react?
The primary textbook was the second edition of Robert K. Johnson's, Reel Spirituality. He outlined five approaches to films that Christians have taken over the years and I regret to say that I have seen one of them alot these days, thanks to the omniscient newsfeed on Facebook. The approach that I speak of is called "Avoidance," and it is characterized by a "boycott mentality." Case in point is "Do NOT Support "The Golden Compass" a Facebook"Arts & Entertainment - Movies" group. As of 11:22 p.m., Thursday, 11/29/07, 81,374 people had joined. The group's administer wrote the following:
THE GOLDEN COMPASS, a new movie targeted at children, will be released December 7, 2007. This movie is based on a the first book of a trilogy by atheist Philip Pullman. In the final book a boy and girl kill God so they can do as they please. Pullman left little doubt about his intentions when he said in a 2003 interview that "My books are about killing God." The movie is a watered down version of the first book and is designed to be very attractive in the hope unsuspecting parents will take their children to see the the movie and that the children will want the books for Christmas. The movie has a well known cast, including Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig,and Sam Elliott. It will probably be advertised extensively, so it is crucial that we get the word out to warn people to avoid this movie.
There's a lot of ways to approach a topic like this. The author of the piece already has responded in several different ways. One, he plays to emotion "a movie targeted at children." However, almost every movie is targeted at children, including ones that contain violent and disturbing content, like say Spider-Man 3. Two, the author paints the film in the dark shades of a "them vs. us" conspiracy. It is "designed to be very attractive in the hope unsuspecting parents will take their children to see the move and... want the books." This is what most people would call marketing, merchandising, etc. Is materialism sinful? Yes, but did Christians protest when The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe spawned all sorts of SWAG? Third, the author paints the movie as an overall force of evil to be shunned and the word must spread to that affect.
In my estimation, the author has swung at three balls and struck out. I think the overarching problem is that the Christian community walks into a movie and judges it by morality, but two, wants to be absorbed in it as entertainment. Many rightly point out the motion picture is a powerful artistic medium, and they are correct in doing so. In his lectures on the topic, Dr. Halla noted that something in the mixture of sight, sound, light, photo, music, writing, and acting can create a deeply moving experience. But he made another point that most of us don't want to admit, because it will change the way we watch something as "innocuous" as a Disney princess classic: "There is no such thing as a movie that purely entertains. That is a myth."
So what should one do about The Golden Compass. I admit that my primary knowledge of the series and its thrust has come from the excellent From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy. The authors (who are both well read) agree that Pullman's work is quite dark and deliberately, almost absurdly, anti-God. But should a Christian first react on moral grounds? Honestly, the most damning thing to me in advance of reading them is that I've been repeatedly told they're poorly written. I'll have to wait and see on that one. But should we avoid it because of its underlying theme? No. I could go on for paragraphs from this point, but this post is already overlong so I'm just going to cut to the chase.
Avoiding a film and encouraging others to do the same does not make it go away. All movies are speaking and we must dialogue with them as we can. When we go to movies, we should go prepared to consider and respond. More so then that, we should experience movies the way we are meant to experience life - in community, and then in community, we should discuss them, consider them, and perhaps even learn from them, just like we should with traditional art. Discernment is a must, but it is high time for Christians to stop basing their entire assessment of a film on spiritual or moral content.
Like Paul showed on Mars Hill, there is often more to this world's culture than meets the eye, but it's ultimate need is not loud protests against immorality, which cannot save, (as Paul could have preached against the broken sexuality of Greek culture and even succeeded in reforming them into a bunch of "righteous" people on their way to hey) but loving proclamation of the only thing which can: the gospel of Jesus Christ.