12/11/2005 09:53 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Seeing God at 24 Frames per Second

I saw the Narnia movie last week and progressives can relax. It's less overtly Christian than the last "Matrix " (or "Grapes of Wrath" for that matter), although it did offer a handy way for Jeb Bush to pay back a political supporter. I also watched "Syriana" and "March of the Penguins." I've seen God at 24 frames per second.

Re "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" (what a title!) - the last crumbling barricades between church and state will not fall because of this film, and judging by the audience last night a lot of kids will have a good time. The more overtly Christian themes of the story have been toned down - or so I'm told by my daughter, who read the entire Narnia series (do I dare say "faithfully"?) as a child.

She, born of my first (mixed-faith but non-religious) marriage, decided she wanted to go to "church" when she was five, so she we joined a Unitarian community. A childhood spent reading the Narnia books and carrying around a stuffed lion named "Aslan" (I doubt she'd haved carried a stuffed Jesus) did not make her Christian. She is, in fact, a confirmed atheist, although she did turn out as noble, brave, and true as the mighty lion himself.

So I tend to agree with Minette Marrin, who argues that liberals are being as literal-minded as fundamentalist Christians if they think that the Narnia film will be read by its audiences as Christian allegory. The fact that C. S. Lewis meant his books that way will be lost on most of the film's young viewers.

And it's a curious Anglicanism that gets depicted in Lewis' fantasy world, anyway: It's one part "King Arthur," one part Theseus vs. The Minotaur, and one part "Wicker Man." Although I was raised in Judaism, there were conversions in the family and I'm allegedly related to an Archbishop, so I suppose I'm sufficiently Anglican to say that all those centaurs and wood nymphs helping Aslan's army are not exactly "C of E."

What is curiously British about the movie is the idea that if you're sufficiently noble, and Christian, and pure, you'll eventually become royalty like the children in this movie do. How antiquated that idea's become fifty years later! Today, royals are known best for whispering pornographic pet names for their adulterous lovers over cell phones. Good thing old C. S. didn't live to see this, wot?

Sure, progressives complained - and appropriately so - when Gov. Jeb Bush chose the novel "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" as the second book in the state's Just Read contest series for children. I'm told the book's more overtly Christian than the film in content. More to the point, the selection was very helpful for the film's producer, Philip Anschutz, a Republican campaign donor, just as the film was coming out. God helps those who help themselves, I suppose.

There's much more overt Christian symbolism in the last Matrix movie ("Matrix Reloaded") than there is in "Chronicles of Narnia." That's the one where Keanu Reeves ("Neo" - the "One," remember?) dies to save humanity and bring peace. For that matter, there's a plenty of Christ-like resonance in Tom Joad's farewell speech, faithfully rendered for the screen by Henry Fonda.

So Jesus allegories in movies are not exactly new. What's new are the attempts to tie kids into those allegories through organized progagandizing in their churches and schools, where the metaphorical is made literal through lesson plans and essay questions. Don't worry, progressives. There's no more sure-fire way to kill kids' interest in something than to put it in a teacher's edition.

The most ironic choice of the year for attempted fundamentalist film tie-in was "March of The Penguins," which I finally saw on DVD this week. Right-wing Christians sought to promote it, over the film makers' objections, as a movie representing their values - apparently because of the efforts the penguin parents make to aid their children in the first year of life.

It looks like they didn't watch the film very carefully. The penguins only mate for a year at a time, after which they abandon their spouses and move on to someone else without ever looking back. Sounds a lot like Newt Gingrich to me. Hmmm ... maybe it is a Republican film.

God figures into "Syriana," too. As Mark Kleiman noted, a group of us blogger types got together to watch it. One of its most interesting subplots was that of two young men who rootless lives are given purpose under the guidance of a radical sheik (who is, interestingly, one of the most charismatically acted roles in the film). Their arc from hopelessness to faith-based terrorism is portrayed, if not sympathetically, then with understanding. (Thomas Friedman would call writer/director Stephen Gaghan an "excuse maker."). That's a brave choice in today's political atmosphere - and, I believe, an important one.

As far as "The Chronicles of Narnia" is concerned, it has the utterly irresistible Georgie Henley as Lucy. That little girl could promote the Department of Motor Vehicles for 2 hours and I'd watch it. She's absolutely adorable ... God knows!

A Night Light