Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cultural Codes in C.S. Lewis

I went to see Voyage of the Dawn Treader a few days ago. I liked the movie, though it was quite different than the book. I expected that though. When they announced the movie D. said he didn't want to see it because he didn't think it would make a good plot. The book was just a series of unrelated islands. The movie brought the disparate elements of the islands with an added element to make a unified plot. I thought that it worked very well.

I also discovered, thanks to the generosity of friends, that 3-D is distracting. I enjoyed the movie but I never really got into it because the effects made me very aware that I was watching a movie. Perhaps if you were used to it you could ignore it, but I couldn't. I think I will just do regular movies from now on.

One of the things I like best about these versions of the Narnia series is that they don't remove the Christian symbols and messages from the story. It is easy to justify taking all of the actual meaning out of pop culture versions of things. For example, I recently saw an episode of Go Diego Go (Dora's cousin for those of you not into children's television) talking about Three Kings Day. Parts of Mexico have gifts delivered not by Santa, but by the three kings, on Jan. 6. So they had an entire episode about the three kings, and how the brought presents, and rode these special animals, but no mention of where these kings came from or why they were bringing presents or anything. At least with Santa based shows they don't have to actively ignore things to take the Christian message out.

Which brings me to the title of the post. I'm going to assume you have a familiarity with the story. If you haven't read the Narnia books stop reading this right now and go get them for heaven's sakes. During the movie, the section where Eustace is changed back into being a boy from a dragon is done very quickly. In fact, it was done so quickly that I think if you hadn't been paying attention you might not have understood what was happening. Later in the movie, one of the characters ask him how it felt. He replies (I'm trying to quote but just from memory) " I was trying to do it, but it was something I couldn't do myself. It hurt, but it was a good kind of hurt." Immediately the ideas of Christ's atonement, the power of repentance and redemption flashed into my mind. Those few sentences were as good as a sermon to me.

Yet I have a prepared mind. I have read the books, I understand the symbolism. I have spent a lifetime immersed in the ideas of a Christian faith. So when a movie uses shorthand to communicate those powerful concepts in just a few seconds, I can still catch it. I want to know if everybody else does.
I think that movie reviewers do, because they are trained to catch the symbolism in all the movies. They are as good as English Majors when it comes to reading the meanings not stated. What about the 99% of moviegoers who don't have that kind of background? I think everyone who can see and hear well enough to go to a movie would have picked up on the idea of temptation, and the importance of resisting it, but that is not a uniquely Christian concept and didn't need the idea of Christ to be developed. What about the idea of repentance, and needing Christ to be able to escape from sin completely? Is it also there for everyone to see? It is hard to try and look at the world though other's eyes and I'm not very good at it. I just have questions.

The problem with these questions is I don't have a good way to answer them. The vast majority of people I know are also well versed in Christian thought. Many of the others are well-educated and trained to pick out ;layers of meaning, even if they aren't specifically aware of religious meaning. So should I head out to the mall and ask people at random coming out of the theater? Probably not. I'm not that curious. What have you read, what do you think?

1 comment:

jendoop said...

I think symbols are symbols for this very reason, so that only those well acquainted with the knowledge related to it will be able to interpret it. This is similar to Christ's parables. It is necessary to apply yourself to understanding.

Speaking of symbols, have you heard of the new series on the History channel? (It could be Discover channel?) The person decodes symbols, akin to National Treasure. A problem I saw from the commercial is that many symbols are multicultural and ancient, so they have many meanings, even layered meanings. Such is the case with the pentagram - it is a symbol on the Nauvoo temple that many people associate with Satan. It has many interpretations, check Wikipedia.

As far as the Narnia series goes, I've cried watching The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe because I thought about the religious symbolism so much.