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Taking Direction From 'The Golden Compass'
The point of this film is to push against dominating and controlling religious thinking
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
Published 2007-12-12 05:30 (KST)   
©2007 New Line Cinema
Some have downplayed the anti-Christian statements made in "The Golden Compass," 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 Philip Pullman, who wrote the novel, conceived his stories with an explicitly anti-Christian intention, employing an anti-control ethos. So to downplay that is really to lose touch with the essence the storyteller was trying to convey.

"The Golden Compass" can be enjoyed without getting drawn into religious bickering, but the point (I think) of this film is to inform the young and 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 the movie posters and kick up a fuss. And it's happening. We'll probably see a lot more posturing from Sunday pulpits over the next few weeks.

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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 Pullman and director Chris Weitz 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 to have authority or authoritative power in what one aims to achieve. Are these our aims, or God's, and are these interchangeable?

People claim that God "spoke to" them and thus they are "right." How can you argue with someone making such claims? This does a great deal to negate or eclipse firsthand knowledge of something, something that is someone else's "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 a defiant but devoted friend, and does so with a fiery determination. The polar bear, voiced by Ian McKellan -- Gandalf in "Lord of the Rings" (the other wizard from "Lord of the Rings" also makes an appearance) -- demonstrates and personifies both these virtues. His duel with his arrogant 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 differ from 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 demon 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 externalized extension of ourselves is actually very accurate allegory. Sometimes people behave peculiarly even to themselves, as their pain 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 the 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 that 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 everything, 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.
For more on the writer, please visit www.nickvanderleek.com.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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