Aslan Is On The Move...

Greg Wilbur Articles

When viewing a film, while it is important to pay attention to its narrative, it is also very important not to simply or exclusively concentrate on the narrative. The artistic elements of filmmaking convey aesthetic and worldview choices as much as the dialogue. How a filmmaker says something is as important as what he says. This concept is especially true with regards to a film such The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in which the expectations for the conveying of C. S. Lewis's story are so high. Did the director get it "right," do the actors look like one would hope, is the message intact, etc. We must realize that literature and film are two separate art forms, and we can never expect film to exactly reproduce a book--after all, if that was the case, why make a film?

Understanding that Lewis was writing an analogy, and not an allegory, also frees us from being too wrapped up in the technical details of how the theology plays out. The questions become: is the Christian message intact, are the elements of substitutionary atonement, resurrection, and redemption evident? This is of far greater importance than whether the original story was followed in every detail.

When I first heard that Andrew Adamson was directing the film, I had serious misgivings. After all, his Shreck films are crass, and worse, they invert biblical and Christian symbolism. However, despite his uneasy relationship with Christian symbols, Adamson's obvious respect and love for these books are clearly evident in his filmmaking as well as his desire to honor the works fully. The fact that Douglas Gresham, Lewis's stepson, was a co-producer on the film also allayed some of my fears.

With these caveats in mind, how does The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe rate as a film?

Story aside, LWW is a stunning work of film with powerful images, sweeping cinematography, and outstanding acting performances. For all of the quibbling about details here and there, the filmmakers have gotten it right, and I find it difficult to imagine the possibility of a more faithful film version. The four children (Georgie Henley as Lucy, Skandar Keynes as Edmund, Anna Popplewell as Susan, and William Mosely as Peter) do a remarkable job of bringing their characters to life. Tilda Swinton as the witch was not quite as imperial or inherently evil for my tastes, but there's no doubt that she does evil things.

The largest question, is of course, how was Aslan? Remarkably convincing, stately, and majestic. The tension is how to visually convey a "terrible good"¾gentleness with appropriate fear. Adamson's Aslan is somewhat lacking in that area such that no one thinks to ask, "Is he safe?" But as goodness is not something that is easily, or perhaps possible, to portray visually, this is a minor grievance.

C.S. Lewis was self consciously writing a fairy tale. From the filmmaking perspective, that element could either be emphasized or excluded. This production chose to minimize the fairy tale aspect and, from the opening scenes, create an atmosphere of realism. This fact is also accentuated throughout the film with dialogue pertaining to motivations, psychology, and parental/authority relationships. However, the wonder and almost magical feel of the land of Narnia is palpable from the first time Lucy walks through the wardrobe. The creatures, regalia, colors, weapons, and scenery also lend an appropriate air of fairy story.

I was encouraged to see a full reckoning of the sin of Edmund. It might have been possible to portray him as tricked or seduced, but his irritable and self-centered nature is evident from the start. This obvious sin nature makes his treachery, redemption, and restoration all the more powerful. And, yes, the film does stay truthful to the full redemptive sacrifice of Aslan with a glorious resurrection.

One of the great themes of the book is the opportunity that Aslan gives for characters to explore, develop, and utilize the gifts they have been given. We see that with Aslan asking the giant to break down the gates of the White Witch's castle (doing that which giants do best), calling the other lion to come to the front and lead ("us lions"), allowing Peter to kill the wolf threatening Susan, and encouraging Lucy to use her phial for the healing of the combatants. While those specific concepts are minimized in the film, the overall idea of Aslan preparing others to serve and lead is apparent.

With regards to content for children, the film contains no offensive language and no gore. A few scary and tense scenes, along with a couple of "jump scenes," might cause mild concern, but even the battle scenes are handled with what Adamson calls "romanticized violence" which is "more poetic and lyrical."

My largest complaint is the missing romp between Aslan and Lucy and Susan after the resurrection. I have other minor complaints, but the fact remains that I highly recommend and commend this film for a faithful, artistic, and engaging representation of the vision of Lewis. I do not think that anyone who loves the books will be disappointed.

However, we must realize that a movie has never converted anyone, and films do not change culture. Only the Spirit of God is capable of such actions. One of my fears with this movie is that the evangelical Church might rush in to force the Christian message of the film upon a populace who is simply enjoying a good story told well. The power of Lewis's work is not preaching, but pointing people towards an imaginative picture of love and goodness that captures the mind and heart. Attraction to true beauty and goodness--of which God is the author and ultimate embodiment--naturally leads to a desire to explore the longing these create which, indeed, can only find their rest and fulfillment in Him. That is my great hope for this film.

By Greg Wilbur