The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
This book is the heart and backbone of the Narnia Chronicles, and it's important that the central themes of sacrifice and redemption are accurately portrayed. In the main, they are, and consequently the movie captures something of the timeless beauty of the book.
The movie takes a long time getting to Narnia - longer than the book. This is somewhat disappointing, because the pre-Narnia time is wholly devoted to establishing the personalities of the Pevensie children, while the time in Narnia has more action, more humor, and more meaning. But, seeing the latter adventure isn't possible without the former groundwork, I suppose the extra time at the Macready mansion is justified.
The challenges and stress involved in being in a new world do not at first draw out the nobler emotions of the children. However, as they rally together for the cause of life and freedom, and especially when they encounter Aslan, they begin to overcome their selfishness and lay down their pride. The transforming work of Christ is made very real as the children embrace after the great battle as brothers, sisters, and comrades.
I was gratified to hear several favorite lines from the book, among them Mr. Beaver's rustic pride in his dam-building prowess and Aslan's businesslike admonition to Peter to clean his sword after slaying the wolf. There's plenty of Narnian goodness to go around; sometimes it's tucked in the corners, but it's there.
Some may have quibbles with the character of Aslan - I personally think it is rather well done, which is no small accomplishment. As everyone knows, he's not a tame lion, and "whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind." (CofN, 185) Aslan is calm, assured, in control. He is gentle, fierce, noble, the embodiment of true authority (Mt 7:29). There is an understanding sadness about his eyes that speaks of intimate familiarity with suffering and pain (Is 53:3), and yet in those same eyes dances a light that speaks of the ultimate victory of love.
The Nazarene could hunger
And the Nazarene could cry
And He could laugh with all the fullness of his heart
And those who hardly knew Him
And those who knew Him well
Could feel the contradiction from the start
-Michael Card, "The Nazarene"
The symbolism in the story is plain enough, and I will not expound on it here, aside from two observations:
- It was touching to see Susan and Lucy accompany Aslan on his midnight walk to the Stone Table - his Via Dolorosa (Lk 23:27). After he bids them to leave him, they sneak along behind, watch his execution through tears (Jn 19:25), and come to mourn over his lifeless body as the morning is breaking. They are also the first to witness his resurrection (Mk 16:2, Lk 24:1, Jn 20:1). I think the prominence of the women in the Biblical account of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection constitutes a quiet but tremendous tribute to that gender, and both Lewis and the Disney screenwriters captured the essence of that compliment beautifully.
- After defeating death, Aslan goes straight to the Witch's castle (Eph 4:8-10, 1 Pet 3:19), where he breathes on the victims she has turned to stone (Jn 20:22) and restores them to life. Needless to say, this is a powerful spiritual picture.
Like many others, I think Prince Caspian the weakest book of the Chronicles. On the same token, lots of action and a thin plot make the story an excellent candidate for the big screen.
Cinematically speaking (is that a word?), the movie makes several improvements over the book. The extended castle siege that dominates the first half of the film is not to be found in the book at all, but it contains a profound lesson about the danger in succumbing to pride and impatience instead of relying on the direction of God and the counsel of others. Peter's selfish and brash decision to storm the Telmarine castle proves to be ill-advised, and a large number of innocent Narnian lives are lost as a result. As Peter hesitates outside the closed gate, knowing full well that he is leaving his soldiers inside to be slaughtered, you can see the despair and terror in his eyes. It drives home the destructive nature of pride rather strongly.
After the tragic defeat at the castle, the Narnians regroup. In a brief but pivotal scene, Peter voices some of his frustration to Lucy: "Where is Aslan? Why doesn't he prove himself?" Lucy, in her sweet, uncompromising way, answers: "Maybe he wants us to prove ourselves to him." Chills down my spine, exhale slowly - quite possibly the best moment in the movie.
The movie features several colorful characters, most notably Trumpkin the dwarf and Reepicheep the mouse. The four Pevensie children have matured considerably since the first film, and though they still have their occasional squabbles, they work together better and show more courage and self-control - Susan and Edmund in particular. Prince Caspian himself seems mediocre, and his character is never really anchored satisfactorily. In my view, the half-hearted romance between Prince Caspian and Susan is distracting and unnecessary. But some people evidently want to see that, so I suppose the rest of us will just have to put up with it.
In short, both movies are enjoyable and, if your paying attention, edifying as well. If you look closely, you will see pieces of your own story, and be inspired to fight the good fight like a man - or like a mouse, as the case may be.
Images courtesy of moviesmedia.ign.com and collider.com