Monday, December 10, 2007

Ronge Review on Golden Compass

With the Golden Compass South Africa's best movie critic goes in the Ronge direction

Barry Ronge downplays the anti-Christian statements made in this film, probably because it's the sort of delightful fantasy that seems appropriate for a Christmas flock. It's also the sort of uncomplicated populist view that is easy. Except that Pullman conceived his stories with an explicitly anti-Christian intention, employing an anti-control ethos. So to downplay that is to really lose touch with the essence the story teller was trying to convey.

I think Barry is trying to say that it's a flick that can be enjoyed without getting drawn into religious bickering. Once again, I think the point is to irk the enemy (as it is declared), to push against dominating and controlling religious thinking. So if you're an atheist (a humanist or a naturalist) The Golden Compass can be enjoyed, even celebrated, on its own terms. If you're anyone else, you probably should stomp on movie posters and kick up a fuss. And it's happening. We'll probably see a lot more posturing over the next few weeks, and hear through the grapevine about absurd geriatric performances* from Sunday pulpits.

That said, I found the movie enormously comforting. I have a lot of Christian friends, so I find it disheartening to have to push alone against this constant tide. It is comforting to know that there are others who also know, implicitly, that for all its good intentions, religion is dangerously deluding. It is good to have thoughtful and imaginative visionaries like Weitz and Pullman who can conceive of a practical and constructive antidote to the unspoken harm that religion does. Religion is often a form of borrowing strength, where, through one's religion, one is empowered or called by God. God speaks to someone and thus they are 'right'. How can you argue with someone making such ridiculous claims. This does a great deal to negate or eclipse firsthand knowledge of something, also called 'reality'. I was happy to see a movie like this, broaching this topic, coming into the public consciousness. The human animal is capable - at times - of actually thinking for itself, awaking out of its programming.

The Golden Compass also portrays some of the great virtues humanity appears to be losing: courage and loyalty. Dakota Blue Richard plays the defiant but devoted friend with a fiery determination. The Polar Bear, voiced by Gandalf (whilst the other wizard from the Lord of the Rings also makes an appearance) demonstrates and personifies both these virtues. His duel with his rival is one of the highlights of the movie.

It is interesting how Pullman has used traditionally evil myths and subverted them into 'good' rebels. He employs witches and demons, who, in this fantasy, might be mistaken for angels and cupids (if only in cute, animal forms).

I also differ with Pullman who said: "For all its length and intellectual complexity, I think Lord of the Rings is an essentially trivial work. It's not about anything important." Tolkien constructed an elaborate, imaginative project to demonstrate the importance of the individual, how even a small person has a vital role in the world. Tolkien also poignantly illustrates through the unusual negative construct (resisting the Ring, the ability to NOT do something) and employing the vital virtues of courage and loyalty. These dual virtues appear to me to be the best foundation for humanity, rather than religion's syrupy and the world's waxy mixed up goo concept for 'love'. Love is hard, tough and disciplined. It's not romantic, except in the sense of retrospective survival, but this romantic sense seems to me to have nothing to do with what real love actually is. This is at least true in terms of the way we think of love and objectification in the modern era.

The daemon concept also provides valuable allegory into the precious and valuable relationships that need to be maintained with ourselves, sometimes also called our 'inner child'. That this is depicted as an externalised extension of ourselves is actually very accurate allegory. Sometimes people behave peculiarly even to themselves, as their pain body is triggered by emotions from others or circumstances. In a very real sense we are not one person, but two, and the inner being is a vital function of who we are. Are we at least aware of this caricature of ourselves? Do we invest in it, take care of it, listen to it?

The 'dust' concept alluded to so often in The Golden Compass is interchangeable with the green streams of code in the Matrix, the Force in Star Wars, the Holy Spirit in Scriptures. It is this something that is also nothing that comprises the compass. It is what the compass points to even when it points elsewhere. It is within this contradistinction that the true answer lies. God, if we insist on such a thing, is a basic unit which runs through everything, connecting everything. It is ourselves, and also ourselves as part of everything else. Once we acknowledge this,once we are aware that something is what it is as much as it is also something else, we begin to understand how the world works, and we can consciously become part of the universe, and part of the corporeal structure of every thing, and if you like - God.

We are all light and dust, and we ought not to be focused on only the finger pointing to the moon, but also on the moon to which it points. It is this context that then expands to include the viewer, bringing about a third dimension, and the knowledge of being in the highest order of things.

*Geriatric: To be insane, stumble, stare at young womens breasts, dribble, incontent, smell of piss.

Oh my god, why do all the geriatric's have to come to the post office at lunch time instead of the other 7 hours in the day when I'm at work and they're doing nothing?


Anonymous said...

Fantastic movie - had to go to see it on my own thought, as my friends unfortunately had preconceived ideas and were not prepared to view it with an open mind.

Nick said...

good for you.

Anonymous said...

It really was great, and I actually saw the film at a previewing with Barry, and I thought the religious outrage thingy was crap, and Barry knew it too, and that people can be a sad bunch of closed minded nuts. Great site, by the way.