"A Willful Rebellious Liar"
Despite the hype, THE GOLDEN COMPASS could be seen as a mediocre movie with lots of eye candy, i.e., special effects and great art direction. Regrettably, at points the art direction and special effects look phony and just a little too computer generated. If we just evaluated THE GOLDEN COMPASS on artistic merit, it would be the script, not the just the production values, that would be worth an essay on bad filmmaking and bad scriptwriting. Thus, the movie contains too many boring, didactic speeches and too many scenes where the expository dialogue doesn’t move along the plot. Even so, people probably will forget how dull the first two-thirds are, because the battle sequences are engaging.
In the beginning, little Lyra, with her daemon Pantalaimon, and her friend, Roger, are fighting with the children of Gyptians, a nomadic group of seafarers. Her character is immediately established as pugnacious, willful, rebellious, law-breaking, and deceitful.
Separated from her mother, Lyra is a ward of Jordan College. She decides to go into the inner chambers of the college. While there, she hides in a wardrobe, where she can hear a discussion of a place in the Arctic where parallel worlds meet. Her famous uncle, Lord Asriel, is raising money for an expedition to investigate these parallel worlds that are joined together by a substance called Dust.
The evil Magisterium, a thinly cloaked reference to the Catholic Church, tries to kill Lord Asriel by poisoning his wine, but Lyra saves him. He hides her in the wardrobe while this fantastic meeting takes place. Each individual human in this world has his own animal companion that externally embodies his human soul. The companions are called daemons with an a-e but are pronounced “dee-mons.” The daemons mostly fight with each other and provide reflective, didactic dialogue with their human hosts, expressing their host’s fears, concerns and even hopes.
At the same time as Lord Asriel goes to the Arctic, Lyra discovers that little children are mysteriously disappearing, especially the children of Gyptians. A mysterious group of Magisterium henchmen, called Gobblers, are kidnapping the children.
Soon, a witch tells Lyra that she is the fulfillment of a prophecy about a girl messiah who will overthrow authority, especially the Magisterium. Also, the head of Jordan College gives Lyra a mystical device called the Golden Compass, otherwise known as the Alethiometer, from the Greek word “to discern the truth.” Through this device, only Lyra has the magical power to can find the answer to any question, such as who’s trying to help her or hurt her, who’s who and what’s what. It even can supposedly change the future.
At the same time, a stiff, mysterious, powerful woman named Mrs. Coulter, played by Nicole Kidman, shows up. She offers to take Lyra to the Arctic, to protect her. Later, it is revealed that Mrs. Coulter is in charge of the Gobblers who are stealing the children.
Lyra’s friend Roger gets taken by the Gobblers. Lyra escapes from the clutches of Mrs. Coulter and joins up with the Gyptians, a Texan airman and a great armored talking bear named Iorek. They try to rescue Roger. This becomes the start of a great battle to free the world from all authority.
THE GOLDEN COMPASS is not a great story like THE LORD OF THE RINGS or THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, after which it is purposely patterned. Many of the themes of atheist Philip Pullman’s book are merely reactionary devices to the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA that try to express Pullman’s hate for parents in general, his hate for Christianity and its leaders and people, and his hate for authority. The book is also designed to motivate the reader through fear and self-gratification. After spending a while struggling with these themes, the movie settles on the core story of rescuing Roger and exposing the Magisterium, who have invented a device to separate children from their daemons or animal soul-spirits.
Although the heroine and her friends are portrayed as the people the audience supports, a little objective examination of who they are would make any discerning viewer question why they’re rooting for them. Lyra is known for her lying so much so that her bear friend calls her “silver tongue.” In the story, this is a positive adjective. Even pagan and other non-Christian societies have disliked liars, however, so it’s very strange that Lyra, the story’s heroine, should be commended in this way. In fact, Lyra’s lying is often a useful pragmatic device to solve the story’s plot problems.
Another problem with the story are the confusing character motivations. Mrs. Coulter, for instance, who turns out to be Lyra’s mother, reaches out to Lyra a couple times, including saving her from having her daemon separated from her and killed. In return, Lyra tricks her mother into opening a tin can containing a deadly poisonous mechanical insect. Her mother doesn’t die, but Lyra doesn’t seem to care and, in truth, wants to get rid of her mother. While Lyra is opposed to all authority, including her mother, she easily befriends strangers and accepts their authority and their directives.
Thus, the more one thinks about the world of THE GOLDEN COMPASS, the more one realizes how upside down and inside out it is. Do parents really want their children hate them, rebel against them and want to kill them? Mrs. Coulter may be the villain, but all she really tries to do in this movie is to save her daughter’s life.
Although the story’s character motivations are not well developed, Mrs. Coulter and the rest of the Magisterium contend they are trying to protect the children, establish order and give peace to society. The way they express these statements, however, it becomes clear the audience should not trust them. Though most of the dialogue is too didactic, it never answers these motivations. Lyra’s motivation to save Roger is clear, but why she hates her mother is not so clear, except that her mother appears to be a very unpleasant character. In fact, several times, the goal of getting rid of the Magisterium and keeping the Magisterium from imposing its will, is merely commended as part of the ultimate goal of overcoming all authority.
The logical consequences of these claims, however, are contradicted by the actual structure of the movie, and by reality itself. Most children go through periods of rebelling against their parents. Quite often, they want to choose strangers instead of their parents. The real world consequences of such rebellion can be devastating. For instance, one of my boys liked to play soccer across a busy street. When I stopped him from doing so, he expressed his severe anger. The next day, our dog got hit by a truck. My boy’s perspective, like Lyra’s, was self-centered, thinking only of his momentary pleasure. My perspective was to keep him from getting run over like our dog.
What’s bad about the movie, therefore, is not overt atheism. That comes in the later books in the three-part series. What’s bad is that it creates a heroine who is selfish, willful and stubborn to such a degree that she does not express love, kindness, joy, peace, or any of those other wonderful virtues that help us put others before ourselves. The Good News of the Gospel is a message of love and forgiveness, not a message of control. It is a personal relationship with a living God, Jesus Christ, who loves us so much that He has laid down his life for us and has given us new life where we can experience real joy, real happiness and real fulfillment. Every one of the virtues Lyra disdains is a virtue based in love. Her lying hurts others, but telling the truth in love helps others. If, for instance, we could not trust anyone, society would fall apart. Trust, honesty, integrity, and the other virtues flow from our love of one another.
Finally, the world portrayed in “The Golden Compass”, the book and the movie, is a mean and vicious world. It is too violent and too cruel for children and will plant hateful scripts of behavior in the minds of susceptible youths.
Beyond that, in the interest of self-satisfaction, it motivates children to seek to be joined with occult, demonic powers and principalities to get their own way. The official website has an area where children can meet their own daemon. It says:
“To discover your very own Daemon, look into your heart, and answer the following twenty questions openly and honestly. Your true character and the form of your Daemon will be revealed. . .”
Hollywood may or may not understand the supernatural, but a read of anthropology books such as “The Spirit of the Rain Forest,” will reveal how horrible the pagan world of daemons, revenge and magic truly is. The anthropology book “The Spirit of the Rain Forest” about the fierce people of the Amazon is a great place to start because people today have a politically correct aversion to the wisdom of God’s Word.
True to form, the daemons in this movie are always fighting, strangling, hitting, and causing havoc. Ultimately, the movie’s pagan worldview and occult content are confusing, nonsensical and abhorrent, as well as harmful to children and teenagers.
How “The Golden Compass” could have become a popular novel is amazing. Why people are interested in this story that is so destructive of their own happiness is a profound mystery about the human condition.
There are great movies in the theater right now, like “Bella,” “August Rush” and Disney’s delightful comedy “Enchanted,” and there are great movies for rent and sale. Our suggestion is avoid “The Golden Compass” if you don’t want to turn your children into spoiled brats who want to kill their parents like Lyra.
(PaPaPa, H, AbAb, PCPC, OO, VV, S, AA, MM) Very strong anti-authoritarian, pagan worldview with some scientific humanism and some preachy moments about free will, getting rid of all authority, lying commended, killing the mother attempted, choosing strangers over parents, plus a thinly veiled church organization called the Magisterium is demeaned in an implied anti-Christian, politically correct manner, and there is strong occult content, including such things as witches are commended, a witch mentions a prophecy that seems to be true, and everyone has an animal companion externally embodying one’s soul (whether good or bad) and the soul-spirits are called daemons with an “a-e” and are pronounced as “dee-mons,” like the the evil beings who serve Satan; no foul language; some intense violence with a little bit of blood that is way over the top for children, including point-blank shootings, stabbings, sentient creatures biting off other creatures’ jaws, strangling creatures, beating creatures, electrocuting creatures, and lots of discussion of war as good; no sex scenes but discussions of an affair and father and mother are unmarried; no nudity; lots of drinking with one character drinking to get drunk; no smoking or drugs; and, witches commended, parents demeaned, church demeaned, authority demeaned, and occult devices.
The complex story of THE GOLDEN COMPASS focuses on a girl named Lyra who lives in a parallel world where every human soul is joined with an external animalistic companion called a daemon. Separated from her parents, Lyra is a ward of Jordan College. She discovers that henchmen from the Magisterium, an obtuse reference to the Catholic Church, are trying to poison her uncle and are kidnapping children to surgically separate them from their daemons. When her friend Roger is kidnapped, Lyra goes to rescue him. She bands together with Gyptians, a Texan and an armored talking bear. With her is the Golden Compass, a mystical device that tells Lyra what’s what and who’s who.
THE GOLDEN COMPASS is talky, didactic and badly written, with confusing character motivations. Even so, people probably will forget how dull the first two-thirds are, because the battle sequences and special effects are engaging. What’s bad about the movie is not its overt atheism. That mostly comes in later books in the series. What’s really bad is that it celebrates an occult worldview and a selfish, stubborn and deceitful heroine who tries to kill her mother.