Monday, December 10, 2007

The Golden Compass Movie --- More Spiritual Than Not.

The controversial movie, The Golden Compass, opened this weekend and pulled in lots of money from audiences around the country despite calls for a boycott. No fan of boycotts but a fan of bargain matinees, five dollars of the gross, plus 50 cents, came from me.

The movie is controversial because Christian groups have advised parents not to let their kids see the movie due to its supposed anti-Christian message. The Catholic League called for the boycott, claiming the movie is anti-Catholic. The irony is that the movie appears to be developing a theme that rejects materialism and embraces a spiritual basis to human nature.

Perhaps the books on which the movie is based are worth all the fuss, but the movie seems pretty tame. Sure, the totalitarian organization that seeks to rule all the parallel worlds in the multiverse is named "the Magisterium," and Catholics will recognize the term because it is used to describe the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. But that's about as far as the supposed anti-Catholicism goes in the movie. By the way, a more daring choice, and more appropriate to our times, would have been to call the totalitarian organization "the Caliphate."

Certain themes in the movie do seem conventionally opposed to dogma and religious authority. There's a nascent theme developing that favors free inquiry into the truth and opposes authoritarian repression of knowledge. Another theme appears to involve suspicion of elites, who wish to live their lives as they please while telling others who don't know better how to live. These are hardly revolutionary or controversial ideas.

The most interesting idea in the movie involves the spiritual nature of humanity. The movie posits that souls are real and that only humans possess them. The twist is that in the parallel universe of The Golden Compass, a human's soul manifests itself in a spirit animal that accompanies its human everywhere. While a person is a child, the spirit animal changes shape, representing the unfinished nature of the child. Once a person becomes an adult, the spirit animal settles on a form that represents the soul of the person. (Wondering what one's own spirit animal would be if they existed in our universe is part of the fun of seeing this movie.)

These spirit animals are called "daemons," pronounced "demons." It's a bit cheeky to name human souls "demons," but that cheekiness amounts to little more than a finger in the eye to theological conventions and hardly worth the controversy.

What could be controversial is a developing theme that involves the spirit animals. The Magisterium is conducting experiments on children to cut the spiritual link between humans and their daemons. The Magisterium is conducting these experiments in the belief that it is for the children's own good to be freed from their daemons. For those of us who survived the 20th Century and its Communist totalitarian governments that sought to change human nature, destroy religion, and create a "New Soviet Man" this is a powerful theme.

It's ironic that Christian organizations oppose this movie and atheists have come to its defense. For it turns out that the good guys in the movie accept the spiritual nature of human beings and the necessity of humans remaining connected to their souls. The bad guys in the movie want to quarantine the soul and cut the connection between humans and their spiritual nature. If anything, this movie has an anti-secular theme. It will be interesting to see how this theme is developed in the sequels.


Republished once to correct final line.

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