That's a headline you will probably never see in these United States of America.
There's a lot of news on religion going around nowadays. With all the earth-shaking and earth-warming events around us, with the economy faltering, the moral decrepitude shown by our administration-sanctioned torture chambers, our civil liberties being trampled on etc. etc., the most important news we get from the Republican candidates is apparently whether they do, indeed, believe the Bible literally. Who cares, I think?
Well many do. Not perhaps in the insular (and mostly secular) enclave I have the pleasure to live in, but in the majority of the country. Religion is apparently important and pervasive. And touches even children's movies.
Philip Pullman is an author I had heard little of until the movie of his first book of the collectively entitled Dark Materials arrived, and the little D, who's way up on all this, began reading the Golden Compass two weeks ago. Pullman is a self-described atheist (brave man) and has suggested that his books are written as an antidote to the religious propaganda that he sees fed to kids everywhere (Pullman is British, and this may be more true where he lives, certainly, than in the thankfully state-separated-from-religion PS321 which my son attends.) He would like to "kill God," says Pullman.
Had US Christians been of the same bent as the many intolerant Muslims worldwide, Pullman's life would surely have been in jeopardy and his books burnt. A movie (made for kids!) from his heretical works would have been inconceivable, and, indeed (as has happened even in the much more tolerant India,) we would doubtless have seen the above headline in the news.
The movie Golden Compass has toned down the irreligiosity of the book (the bad guys, for example, are the "Church" in the book, and merely the "Magesterium" in the movie, still redolent of Christianity but would probably not register with kids.) This group, by the way, is bent on destroying the free will of the people and making them more docile, understanding and "happy." The best conceit of the story is that the embodiment of "free will" and/or the "spirit" appears as little animals that accompany all humans and serve as conscience, sooth-sayer and idea-bouncer. Makes for wonderful CGI graphics in the movie, but animalizing a soul-equivalent is not calculated to win religious hearts. And the Magisterium is bent on separating the little buggers from the children.
Therein lies the essential problem of religion for folks like me: the requirement to bow to a higher power vs. the supposed free will that humans have. Only if you adhere to a faith can you have the cognitive dissonance to let this pass without a struggle.
But all this had the Catholic powers in an uproar. Tried to organize a boycott (when will they ever learn that boycotts of books/films will only increase their appeal?) Then the Catholic News Service (catholicnews .com), critics Harry Forbes and John Mulderig call the movie “lavish, well-acted and fast-paced. The good news is that the first book’s explicit references to this church have been completely excised, with only the term Magisterium retained." Therefore the thumbs-up review...it's just good, clean, non-heretical fun (which the movie actually is.)
This, by the way, has generated calls from the Catholic League for the critics to be fired for endorsing the movie.
As with the Harry-Potter-is-the-spawn-of-the-devil "controversy," much is made of the central character's rebelliousness (in this case, a girl, Lyra,) and attraction to adult figures who reject authority. Surprisingly the many (if not most) children's books which depict exactly this rebelliousness as a central part of their stories (think Roald Dahl) are not similarly excoriated. Perhaps it takes fame (and a movie) for the religious powers to rise up and complain. In any event, the complaints seem fated to be singularly ineffective.
Well, even as the father of a 9-1/2 year old wanna-be teenager who can be plenty rebellious, I say more power to Pullman. I will be reading with him Books II and III, which are considered stronger meat than Book I.
I only wish the movie could've lived up to all this hype; it's good but not great. A little too fast paced, it feels rushed (as would a 2 hour movie from a 400 page book.) The acting, however is uniformly good; the production design beautiful and Nicole Kidman a wonderfully slithery embodiment of evil.