Dr. Ted Baehr is the founder and publisher of MOVIEGUIDE, chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission, and a well-known movie critic, educator, lecturer and media pundit. He also is the author of several books, including "The Culture-Wise Family" with legendary entertainer Pat Boone. For more information, please call 800-899-6684 or go to the MOVIEGUIDE website.More ↓Less ↑
Despite the hype, “The Golden Compass” is a mediocre movie with lots of eye candy and too many boring speeches. However, given the promotion budget, many people will see the movie and probably will forget how dull the first two-thirds are, because the battle sequences are so engaging.
Without going into the review of the movie (that you will be able to access at MovieGuide.org the day the film opens), it is important to understand what’s wrong with children seeing “The Golden Compass.”
While most commentators are focusing on the atheism and paganism in the book, the movie has been slightly toned down so that the more troubling elements are the person of the heroine herself and some of the movie’s themes. Children learn their scripts of behavior from movies and entertainment. The more intelligent the child is the more likely he or she will encode the behavior.
The role model for children in this movie is the heroine, Lyra. Lyra is immediately established as pugnacious, willful, rebellious, lawbreaking and deceitful. A witch tells Lyra that she is the fulfillment of a prophecy about a girl messiah who will overthrow authority, especially the Magisterium, a thinly cloaked reference to the Catholic Church.
Although the heroine and her friends are portrayed as the people the audience supports, a little objective examination of who they are would make any discerning viewer question why they’re rooting for them. Lyra is known for her lying so much so that her bear friend calls her “silver tongue.” In the story, this is a positive adjective. Even pagan and other non-Christian societies have disliked liars, however, so it’s very strange that Lyra, the story’s heroine, should be commended in this way. In fact, Lyra’s lying is often a useful pragmatic device to solve the story’s plot problems.
Mrs. Coulter, who turns out to be Lyra’s mother, reaches out to the girl a couple times, including saving her from having her daemon separated from her and killed. In return, Lyra tricks her mother into opening a tin can containing a deadly poisonous mechanical insect. Her mother doesn’t die, but Lyra doesn’t seem to care and, in fact, wants to get rid of her mother. While Lyra is opposed to all authority, including her mother, she easily befriends strangers and accepts their authority and their directives.
Thus, the more one thinks about the world of “The Golden Compass,” the more one realizes how upside down and inside out it is. Do parents really want their children hate them, rebel against them and want to kill them? Mrs. Coulter may be the villain, but all she really tries to do in this movie is to save her daughter’s life.
Although the story’s character motivations are not well developed, Mrs. Coulter and the rest of the Magisterium contend they are trying to protect the children, establish order and give peace to society. The way they express these statements, however, it becomes clear the audience should not trust them. Though most of the dialogue is too didactic, it never answers these motivations. Lyra’s motivation to save Roger is clear, but why she hates her mother is not so clear, except that her mother appears to be a very unpleasant character. In fact, several times, the goal of getting rid of the Magisterium and keeping it from imposing its will is commended as part of the ultimate goal of overcoming all authority.
The logical consequences of these claims, however, are contradicted by the plot and by reality itself. Most children go through periods of rebelling against their parents. Quite often, they want to choose strangers instead of their parents. The real-world consequences of such rebellion can be devastating. For instance, one of my boys liked to play soccer across a busy street. When I stopped him from doing so, he directed his anger at me. The next day, a truck hit our family’s dog. My boy’s perspective, like Lyra’s, was self-centered, thinking only of his momentary pleasure. My perspective was to keep him from getting run over like our dog.
What’s bad about the movie, therefore, is not overt atheism. That comes in the later books in the three-part series. What’s bad is that it creates a heroine who is selfish, willful and stubborn to such a degree that she does not express love, kindness, joy, peace or any of those other wonderful virtues that make us put others before ourselves. The Good News of the Gospel is a message of love and forgiveness, not a message of control. It is a personal relationship with a living God, Jesus Christ, who loves us so much that He has laid down his life for us and has given us new life where we can experience real joy, real happiness and real fulfillment. Every one of the virtues Lyra disdains is a virtue based in love. Her lying hurts others, but telling the truth in love helps others. If, for instance, we could not trust anyone, society would fall apart. Trust, honesty, integrity and the other virtues flow from our love of one another.
Finally, the world portrayed in “The Golden Compass,” the book and the movie, is a mean and vicious world. It is too violent and too cruel for children and will plant hateful scripts of behavior in the minds of susceptible youths.
Beyond that, in the interest of self-satisfaction, it motivates children to seek to be joined with occult, demonic powers and principalities to get their own way. The official website has an area where children can meet their own daemon. It says:
“To discover your very own Daemon, look into your heart, and answer the following 20 questions openly and honestly. Your true character and the form of your Daemon will be revealed.”
Hollywood may or may not understand the supernatural, but a read of anthropology books such as “The Spirit of the Rain Forest” will reveal how horrible the pagan world of daemons, revenge and magic truly is. “The Spirit of the Rain Forest” about the fierce people of the Amazon is a great place to start because people today have a politically correct aversion to the wisdom of God’s Word.
True to form, the daemons in this movie are always fighting, strangling, hitting and causing havoc. Ultimately, the movie’s pagan worldview and occult content are confusing, nonsensical and abhorrent, as well as harmful to children and teenagers.
How “The Golden Compass” could have become a popular novel is amazing. Why people are interested in this story that is so destructive of their own happiness is a profound mystery about the human condition.
There are great movies in the theater right now, like “Bella,” “August Rush” and Disney’s delightful comedy “Enchanted,” and there are great movies for rent and sale. Our suggestion is avoid “The Golden Compass” if you don’t want to turn your children into spoiled brats who want to kill their parents like Lyra.
If you would like to sound off on this issue, participate in today’s WND Poll.