About the movie
The Golden Compass

Movie Review: The Golden Compass

"The much-hyped movie The Golden Compass has finally arrived in movie theaters across America. Christians are being encouraged to keep themselves and their children away from the film and denounce its message. In the space below I have attempted to give a concise summary of the movie along with some pastoral thoughts that I pray will be of some help to the church. Obviously, these are my own personal opinions, observations and conclusions and I realize that not all will agree with my sentiments.

The Messenger

It is always important to consider the background and worldview of any author to help one understand his/her work. In this case, let me introduce you to a man named Philip Pullman, the creator of a well known trilogy of children's books called His Dark Materials. This trilogy, which has sold over 15 million copies and achieved award-winning status in the literary world, begins with a book called The Golden Compass� now a motion picture. His Dark Materials are very similar in genre to the well-known work of C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia.

Pullman was raised in England under the influence of the Anglican Church of which his grandfather was a parish priest. As far as where he stands spiritually, Pullman says this of himself in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald: "If we're talking on the scale of human life and the things we see around us, I'm an atheist. There's no God here. There never was. But if you go out in the vastness of space, well, I'm not so sure. On that level, I'm an agnostic."

The Message

First of all, I should mention that I did see the film. By doing so I am not advocating that others do likewise, but I felt I had a responsibility to personally evaluate the film from first-hand knowledge and not solely on what others have written or said about it.

In the movie the words "church" or "God" are never used�not once. However, this does not mean that God and the church are not clearly represented in the film. In fact, it is unmistakable that The Golden Compass, at its core, is a movie about the church and God. The film uses the terms "the Magisterium" and "the Authority" countless times. These are obvious code words for the church and God respectively.

I cannot go into every detail and nuance of the film here. Nevertheless, let me try to summarize the message of the movie as I saw it. The message of The Golden Compass is this: The Magisterium, who serve the Authority, is on a mission to destroy truth and free will so it can retain its power over the people. However, there remains one key obstacle to fulfilling this mission� a golden compass. This golden compass has the power to "tell the truth"� something that poses a great threat to the Magisterium. Throughout history the Magisterium has found a way to destroy every golden compass except one. It just so happens that this one golden compass, which resembles a ouija board, finds its way into the hands of an eleven year-old girl named Lyra. The movie is basically a tale of the Magisterium trying to capture Lyra and, thus, destroy the truth. There is one other sub-plot worth mentioning. The Magisterium is in the business of kidnapping children and killing their souls (called "daemons" which take the form of animals). There is an uprising of the masses who are tired of having their children kidnapped as well as living under the tyranny of the Magisterium. There is only one solution� war!

Remember, The Golden Compass is the first episode of Pullman's trilogy. Those familiar with the next two episodes tell of the ultimate war where the people kill the Authority once and for all. Thus, in Pullman's ideal world, truth and free-will prevail and people are finally safe and can enjoy life.

My Response

Admittedly, I have seen other films that have been much more offensive to me as a Christian. Still, I believe that there is justifiable reason for concern. Below, I have listed only two of my main concerns.

The depiction of God:
It is obvious that the movie makes a point to depict God as a cruel, impersonal authority figure who cares nothing for people. His assigned name, the Authority, communicates that God's sole concern is securing his own power by forcing people to submit to him.

The depiction of the church:
The author and directors could not paint a more negative picture of the church. The church is seen as a heartless, manipulative, oppressive, and abusive force intent on retaining its power over the people. The portrayal of the church engaging in prolific child kidnapping and experimentation was very disturbing to me. Granted, in recent years we have all been sickened by reports of Roman Catholic priests molesting innocent children, but the movie, in my opinion, goes too far. Children will walk away from the movie (and the books) with a very dark view of the church and God. In fact, the clear message of the movie is that the church will hurt you� even abuse you. Fight against it. Resist it. At all costs. This, I am afraid, is the very intention of Pullman. It is a sad and troubling message.

My Recommendations:

These are troubled times we live in. Our culture continues to drift farther and farther away from absolute truth and our nation's foundation. If there is any time where God's people should fervently pray for themselves, their children, their church, and their nation� it is now. This movie is just another reminder that there is an obvious spiritual conflict that pervades our society. Let us pray� both independently and corporately for strength, boldness, and discernment.

I find that hyped-up movies like The Golden Compass actually provide great ways to engage people in conversation about spiritual things. As I was leaving the theater a man asked me what movie I just came out of. I was able to briefly talk to him about my impressions. Again, I am not advocating going to see The Golden Compass, but I do suggest that people make an effort to learn about the things that are going on in the world of art, film, literature, and entertainment so they may be equipped to share their thoughts with their non-Christian neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family members.

Give the ultimate golden compass!
As I watched the movie I couldn't help but think what the plot would have looked like if it were reversed. Instead of the church trying to wipe out truth by destroying the golden compass, what if it was promoting it by handing out Bibles! As Christians we have the wonderful Word of God in our possession. The Bible contains God's truth for all humanity. It's not something to hide from people; it's something to share with the world! Don't hesitate to get the Word of God into the hands of those who are desperately searching for truth in this life!"

"In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work"
(2 Timothy 3:13-17).

Written by Pastor M. B.
First Baptist Church
Stockton, CA

shared with you by
Kraig J. Rice
Bread On The Waters (BOW)

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December 16, 2007