by Nathan Fischer
The Golden Compass is a breathtaking journey into a fantasy world very similar to our own. The story itself is riveting, the characters are all quite likeable or quite villainous, and the tension between them makes for two very exciting hours. I also thought the musical score and cinematography were nearly perfect, which helped to amplify the whole experience. However, despite how well-made The Golden Compass may have been, it carried in its story some noticeably anti-Christian elements. Sometimes these elements were subtle, sometimes they were more than obvious, but they were always present.
We learn in the beginning that there many parallel universes to our own universe (think “the wood between the worlds” in The Magician’s Nephew). Binding all of these worlds together in The Golden Compass is the dust. Dust is important because it is the cause of tension between the Magisterium and the scientific community throughout the ages.
A Magisterium in the real world (our world) is, simply put, an ecclesiastical term for the teaching authority of the church. It is used much the same way in The Golden Compass, except that the entire church is portrayed as a very wicked Magisterium. It is an old, dogmatic, totalitarian group that wants nothing more than to control all so-called “free thinkers.”
This is evident when scientists create a device called an Alethiometer, which uses dust in order to determine any truth. The Magisterium (aka: Christian church) does not like any truth but their own, though, and thus they destroy every Alethiometer but one. That one is given to the heroine of the story, little Lyra Belacqua. She must now use it to stop the Magisterium from holding little children hostage in the frozen wasteland of the north.
Also interesting is that the place where the children are being held captive is called the experimental station. There the Magisterium separates their spirits from the little children and holds them under extreme totalitarian control. This stands in stark contrast to C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, in which characters Eustace and Jill attend the Experiment House, where children are allowed to run free and do whatever it is they wish to do – which is generally causing mayhem and bullying other children.
There is a strong anti-Lewis theme throughout the film, which helps to fuel Pullman’s anti-Christian imagery. For example, as the four children in Narnia were given new, honorable last names by Aslan, so also is Lyra given a new last name by Lorek (bear prince who becomes king) in The Golden Compass. Her name, however, is hardly honorable, even if we are told to think it is. She is called Silvertongue. Why? Because she lies through her teeth, and as long as it is for a good purpose, it is considered noble and cunning of her to lie, so she is rewarded for it. She is such a good little utilitarian.
In the end, the overriding theme to the entire movie seems to be: the Christian church is lying to you in order to keep your free will under submission; science, however, can reveal the truth in all things and this truth that science reveals will set you free from the totalitarian dictatorship of the church. The Alethiometer is considered proof of this. The Magisterium believes that the dust came about from a bad thing that some people had done a long, long time ago – the dust causes sin. The bad thing, of course, is a reference to the eating of the Tree of the Knowledge. Science, however, views the releasing of the dust as a good thing. It is through this act that truth is finally discovered. Thus, while it is not stated outright, the implication is that God lied and Satan spoke truth.
The Golden Compass can be called nothing but anti-Christian (and, I would say, is very pointedly anti-Lewis as well). Now, it is quite painfully obvious that this is Pullman’s driving theme. But just because it is obvious does not mean it is harmless. Even Christ used parables – images are powerful tools, and Christian parents should be very cautious about letting their children see the images presented in The Golden Compass. They require discernment.
In the end, though, we must trust in Christ. Pullman never addresses the Gospel. That is his fatal mistake. He tugs on the anti-authoritarian tendencies of people (especially young people) today, but he never addresses the Gospel. He cannot! Because the Gospel sets us free in a way that science never can, and that is something Philip Pullman will never understand. The church that proclaims the Gospel of Christ’s death for our sins is a place of true freedom.
It is not a sin to see The Golden Compass, and despite its obvious agenda, it is quite an enjoyable movie overall. However, the Christian should be certain to hold Christ and Him crucified at the center of his sight throughout the film. The image of the cross must cover the images on that movie screen. Christ must be our true compass.
Though sin holds sway over us on this earth, there is an earth to come (not a parallel earth, but a new earth). From dust we came and to dust we shall return. This dust binds us all together in that sin of the first Adam. But there came a second Adam, and He died for Philip Pullman, for you, and for the entire world. Thus the final reality is not that “dust” binds all together, but that Christ binds all together. Christ Jesus Crucified is the reality from which the entire cosmos lives and is sustained. He is our reality, for we are baptized into him, and the demonic spirits truly have been separated from us in that Holy Water. Rejoice, for you are saved! Through His blood shed for you, you shall rise again on that glorious day of His returning, to live freely with Christ Jesus forever in the new creation to come.
Nathan Fischer is a graduate of Concordia University – Wisconsin, and a first year student of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN.
Created: December 8th, 2007