Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (HDM) trilogy truly deserves all the epithets hurled at it, and Christians are gearing up for the December release of the film version of The Golden Compass, the first book in the trilogy.
We needn't worry. Hollywood is working its magic.
Chris Weitz, the on-again, off-again, back-on-again writer and director, explained how the film will treat the book's anti-Christianity in an online interview back in 2004: "New Line is a company that makes films for economic returns. . . . They have expressed worry about the possibility of HDM's perceived antireligiosity making it an unviable project financially . . . Needless to say, all my best efforts will be directed towards keeping HDM as liberating and iconoclastic an experience as I can. But there may be some modification of terms."
Modification of terms is right, reports Hanna Rosin in the latest issue of the Atlantic.
In the books, Lyra is the new Eve, but an Eve who brings humanity to its full realization by eating the fruit. The climax of the trilogy comes when Lyra, the 12-year-old heroine, shares a red fruit with her friend Will. They kiss and Pullman draws a discrete curtain over the rest: "Around them there was nothing but silence, as if all the world were holding its breath" is as explicit as he gets.
Pullman told Rosin that this Eden-reversal scene is crucial to his effort to unravel Christian mythology: "They become aware of sexuality, of the power the body has to attract attention from someone else. This is not only natural, but a wonderful thing! To be celebrated! Why the Christian Church has spent 2,000 years condemning this glorious moment, well, that's a mystery. I want to confront that, I suppose, by telling a story that this so-called original sin is anything but. It's the thing that makes us fully human."
As Rosin says, "no $180 million movie is going to trash the first book of the Bible, so the movie will have to do without it."
And the movie does without much of the rest of Pullman's alternative theology. In the books, "Dust" is the replacement for a personal God, a kind of life-force that begins to build up during puberty and which humans accumulate by "thinking and feeling and reflecting, by gaining wisdom and passing it on." In the film, Dust loses its overt religious dimensions and becomes analogous to the Force. The tag line for the movie doesn't talk about Lyra as the new Eve, but tells us that "one person can change the world." And the plot to kill God is trimmed back to a story of "a band of grubby, half-crazed heroes [that] takes on the System and wins."
No doubt much of this is due to Christian activism in Hollywood. Producers know they're dealing with a large audience of movie-going, earnest, activist Christians, and they don't want to rouse the giant.
But much of it is simply the genius of Hollywood, which can take the most subversive of stories and dissolve it into sentimentality and cliche. If only we could get Al-qaeda to make its headquarters in Southern California, the war on terror would soon be over.
So, Hooray for Hollywood! And, of course, add a cheer or two for grubby capitalism.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, November 09, 2007 at 08:06 AM
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