The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the latest film in the Narnia series. No longer a Disney feature, this was troubled before it even began. The House of Mouse abandoned the series due to both an uninspiring return from Prince Caspian and a high budget required for this film which requires a lot of water scenes. Caspian was not a terrible film, but it suffered from being released as a summer event movie when it’s clearly a family film. An October release date to coincide with half term would have been better for it I think, but it was never going to be as successful as the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
This instalment, released at Christmas to coincide with family audiences, sees two Edmund and Lucy return to Narnia with their annoying nephew Eustace. They find themselves at sea and are picked up by their old friend Prince, now King, Caspian. The film follows their adventures trying to find seven missing Lords of Narnia and tells of the many adventures they have on the islands along the way.
Plot wise, this is by far the most episodic of the series. Each island visit is separated by some sea faring character development and this unfortunately removes a lot of the urgency driving the story. The islands are great fun, each one a new exploration of a different locale with new characters to meet, but the driving plot hadn’t got enough threat to keep me interested. More than any of the other Narnia films, this feels a bit like a group of middle class children going on a jolly. This alters from the book, which is more open about the lack of necessity for this quest. As long as you are going along just for the ride, this is an enjoyable film. Fortunately I was able to do just this and it was a fun voyage. Will Poulter as Eustace is a delight to watch and the fast pace keeps things moving along nicely.
Despite that, I can’t help having a few doubts about the series as a whole. I was reminded in this one of one my major faults with Prince Caspian and that’s the violence. Not the inclusion of it, but the sheer lack of visible consequences frustrates me. Disney made it a contractual requirement that the film receive a PG rating, and so the final battle removed all references to people being hurt by the violence. No visible signs of bleeding were allowed and all stabbing resulted in was either the recipient screaming “Oww” or dying on the spot. I think that children’s not learning about the consequences of violence is stupid, and the film-makers quite frankly have a responsibility for how it affects their audience. For a film that we all know is a Christian family picture, to choose to hide the consequences of battle in favour of allowing a larger audience to see it, is unacceptable to me. I personally believe that if you’re film has violence, it should be portrayed as such, and this story does. If the film were made a 12A with mild blood shots, then the parents could teach their children properly. The only audience they would lose is the very young children and it’s not entirely appropriate for them with the level of violence and threat contained within.
Another thing that bugs me with these films, and I can never help pondering, is the fact that the metaphor underpinning the films is no longer subtle. Every adult knows the world of Narnia is a Christian analogy and I can never decide whether this is a good thing. One thing I always love and prefer in films is when they use similes and metaphors for Christ when I don’t expect it. I especially enjoy wondering whether the inclusion of this metaphor was intentional, coincidental or just me over analysing. With the Narnia films, you go in expecting some Biblical lesson and that feels a bit odd to me. I can’t see it working as evangelism if everyone just knows what it represents and neither can I see it as the best way to be taught about biblical principles. I much prefer a film like Kick Ass which shows you something and let you choose for yourself what to take from it. I know I refer to that film a lot, but it is a very accurate example of what I like about film. There are parts of that film that are very clearly unacceptable and others which are clearly fine. There is however, also a lot of grey in between and it is up to the individual watching to make a choice as to what they accept. If they reject it all and I don’t that’s fine, as I really don’t expect everyone to share the exact same moral code as me.
With Narnia films however, a Christian will go in with the assumption it will speak to them and other Christians in the same way. The annoying false assumption that Christians are united in their moral compasses being exactly the same is destructive. Take simple questions like can violence ever be justified, does God want us to be rich and you can see how much people differ. I’m not saying however that there is nothing that all Christians share in common, that would be stupid. There are some things but these are pretty much just the basics.
Let me give you a case in point of this film that annoyed me but others loved. There was a quote I saw recited on twitter that CS Lewis did not insert, that “To defeat the darkness out there, you must first defeat the darkness inside yourself.” Now this is something that I disagree with, as I don’t feel we can ever truly beat our own fallen nature, but others accepted this. The disagreement I don’t mind, its more the attitude I believe people have going into these films now. I believe some people are going in to these films with the notion that everything they are shown is infallible and this is not the case. We are told to renew our minds, not just look for things that confirm what we think.
However, that being said, I do think that films promoting Christian symbolism are a good thing. There is a lot to be learned by using symbolism and questioning areas that you seldom think about. If there’s one thing I love, its symbolism. I’m also painfully aware how unsuccessful a blatantly Christian film would be, even if it’s far more valid than a vaguely accurate interpretation.
In conclusion, my problem is not that it’s a metaphor, not at all, but that it’s become blatant, and more worrying, the main appeal of these films. I worry that parents are relying on these films to teach their children about Jesus, but they aren’t valid really. This instalment for example, focussed too much on being saved by works and is not ideal as an introduction to salvation. As entertainment, with the right attitude towards the ideas put forward, this is a good film. The simple violence annoys me, but it’s becoming culturally acceptable, so I can’t blame them for doing it. That does not however mean it should remain that way.
Please share your thoughts below, as I’d like to hear what others think if these films and whether my fears are valid or not.