Magisterium official Fra Pavel (Simon McBurney) in The Golden Compass.Courtesy of New Line
One of Vulture’s previous posts on the Catholic League’s Golden Compass protest has become a hotbed of comments debating the virtues of the movie. Commenters have been defending and attacking author Philip Pullman, defending and attacking New Line’s movie, and defending and attacking each other with great verve. However, hardly anyone’s seen the movie, which opens Friday, so hardly anyone knows how anti-Christian the movie actually is.
In the spirit of spurring intelligent debate, Vulture attended a screening of The Golden Compass last night, clipboard in hand, ready to make note of every instance of anti-religious sentiment in the film. Will Lyra and her daemon drive millions of American children into apostasy? Or has the movie, as some fans of the book charge, been cleaned of all Pullman’s atheistic beliefs?
Let’s find out!
0 minutes: The movie begins. A voice-over makes a game attempt at explaining the cosmology of the film’s world but doesn’t really go in-depth. Certainly at no point does the voice-over yell, “God is a fictional construct! Reject the faith of your fathers!”
5 minutes: We meet Fra Pavel, played by Simon McBurney (above). In the books he’s a minor functionary; in this movie, he’s a mouthpiece of the Magisterium placed at Jordan College to keep an eye on our heroine, Lyra, and the scholars. He’s creepy and gross and wears sort of a weird cassock thing. He also attempts to poison heroic Lord Asriel.
11 minutes: Asriel introduces the notion of another world, one in which there is “no Magisterium, and no Authority.” (As the Magisterium is Pullman’s word for the Church in the books, so is the Authority his word for God.) “That is heresy,” Fra Pavel hisses. “That is the truth!” Asriel roars. Pavel’s daemon is a beetle; Asriel’s is a gorgeous snow leopard.
34 minutes: Lyra is whisked away by the glamorous Mrs. Coulter. Lyra asks her about the Magisterium and why it’s so important. “They keep things working by telling people what to do,” Mrs. Coulter responds. When Lyra objects, Mrs. Coulter adds, “Some people know what’s best for them, and some people don’t. Besides, they don’t tell people what to do in a mean, petty way; they do it in a kindly way.” That makes the Church sound great! We could use someone telling us what to do in a kindly way; what a nice change that would be.
38 minutes: In the books, Dust is the physical manifestation of original sin. In the movie, this is glossed to Mrs. Coulter telling Lyra that long ago, “Some of our ancestors disobeyed the Authority, and that is when Dust came into being.” That’s the kind of vagueness that will delight the Catholic League, and annoy the National Secular Society.
70 minutes: A bunch of scenes with some kind of council of the Magisterium. The head of the group (Derek Jacobi) wears sort of priestly robes. Also, Christopher Lee is a member of the council as well. So, Saurumon works for the Church? That’s the most anti-religious moment yet!
105 minutes: Witch Serafina Pekkala explains the upcoming war as a result of the Magisterium ruthlessly expanding into other worlds. This seems sort of anti-religious, until we remember that it’s replacing the book’s explanation of the war: Lord Asriel has set out to destroy the Magisterium and kill God. So maybe a wash.
Final verdict: Basically not anti-religious at all! Let peace reign across all the worlds and comments sections of the universe!
Earlier: Is ‘The Golden Compass’ Too Anti-Christian, or Not Anti-Christian Enough?
Philip Pullman Realizes ‘Killing God’ Not the Ideal Sales Pitch
Would ‘The Golden Compass’ Be Easier to Market if Philip Pullman Were Dead? Philip Pullman Thinks So!
The Catholic League Will Stop at Nothing to Promote ‘The Golden Compass’