Fenton Meiks shows up at the FBI office to tell the investigator that he knows that his brother is the God’s Hand Killer.  He then relates the strange events in his childhood which started when his otherwise sane and loving father wakes him and his brother in the middle of the night to tell them that he’s had a holy vision, and that he must now find demons, who look like people, and kill them.  While Fenton’s younger brother bought into their father’s delusions, Fenton knew better.

A horror film without any jump-scares, Frailty offers an unnerving brand of child abuse.    Dad is no mustache-wearing Machiavellian villain.  He’s a regular Joe who loves his kids, and who just happens to have heard the word of God and been given a mission to kill demons.  Naturally, he wants his kids to happily join in, since it is the word of God, and who wouldn’t want to do God’s will?  So, what is a loving parent to do when one of his children isn’t keen on following God’s orders and chopping people up with an axe?

First rate acting across the board—particularly from “Game-over man” Paxton as the Father with a problem and child actor Matt O’Leary as a son trying to find a way out—and reasonable production values for a mid-budget flick, support a fascinating script that asks some interesting questions about faith while exploring the darkness that religion can bring.   The atmosphere is here for some good midnight chills, but it is the questions and answers the movie suggests that will stick with you.

For much of the film, we watch the horrors that can be visited on a young boy (as well as on all those people who are getting their heads bashed in) by a father who means well.  Evil is rarely done by someone who thinks he is in the wrong, and watching the good man harm not only strangers, but his children, is a painful look into what’s happening all around us in society, but in less obvious ways.  Everyday, religious parents teach their children lies, tell them to ignore scientific truths and intelligent philosophy in favor of blind obedience to an inconstant God.  Often, the cruelty is restrained to fouling the minds of kids, but not always.  Deanna Laney stoned to death her eight and six-year-old sons and permanently injured her eighteen-month-old baby because she believed God wanted her to.  At least Frailty‘s Dad avoided killing his son.

But there is more on display than the hell-on-earth caused by religion in general and Christianity in particular.  Frailty asks: what if none of this has anything to do with insanity?  What if some kind of god does exist and he commands you to do something that you otherwise would see as wrong?  Of course, the Christian should go ahead and carry out the atrocity since right and wrong are determined by God.  The answer here is otherwise.  If there actually is a God, and he talks to you, run as fast and far as you can.  You may not be able to escape, but there is nothing else to do.  If God is looking down on us, the one thing we should all pray for is that he never does anything, never speaks to us, and that no one ever knows it, because he is one sick son-of-a-bitch.


Demetrius and the Gladiators

Demetrius, a 5th level fighter, is given a wizard’s enchanted cloak, but an evil king wants the cloak for its power to create undead.  When he fails his saving throw, Demetrius is captured and sent to fight in the arena.  Such bloodsports would reduce his karma rating, so he refuses, till his best girl gets broken, then it’s slice and dice time.  His skill and ferocity make him a star, since the people can’t watch NFL football.  Like all pro-athletes, he takes to living the high life, with lots of alcohol and sleazy married woman.  But the wizard’s apprentice wants Demetrius back in their party (possibly to fight off goblins), and he’s got the magic cloak.

A sequel to the not-very-Biblical epic, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators is Christianity as high fantasy.  Of course there is a magic item, this time in bright red Technicolor.  Like all good fantasy heroes, Demetrius spends most of the movie in sword and sandals, killing for the thrill of it (not his thrill, or those in the coliseum, but for yours), and whoring it up.  Think Conan with a cross.  There’s plenty of empty Christian lecturing, but as  “Be good to your neighbor” makes for a boring film, it is dropped for most of the running time in favor of Saturday afternoon action.

While it merely sidesteps The Bible, it directly confronts history, decides it doesn’t like it much, and creates its own.  So, we get to learn exciting new history.  Did you know that Emperor Caligula was killed because he condemned a Christian gladiator?  You didn’t?  Well, no one else did either.  And, how about the historic moment when Claudius  OK’d Christianity in Rome?  Missed that?  So did every history book ever written.  But what is history when you’ve got sweaty men whapping each other?

Victor Mature was the obvious choice for the lead.  With his burly physique, leathery skin, curly black hair, and inability to act, he IS Arnold Schwarzenegger.  No one can make a line sound less real, or a situation less relevant than Mature.  But he does have muscles and knows how to wear armor with no pants.  Susan Hayward is your1950s, family-oriented version of a “loose woman,” that is, she’s wholesome.  Jay Robinson, however does know how to play a crazy man.  He’s deep into farce, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t entertaining.

Actually, much of the film is entertaining in a “wow, this is stupid” kind of way.  It’s bright and cheery with big sets and legions (hey, they were Roman) of extras.  The gladiator fights are exciting and it’s all played out to a dramatic soundtrack by Alfred Newman and Franz Waxman.   Only the preaching drags things down.  Luckily, this is a hypocritical film that wallows in violence, so it’s watchable.



And lo, the angel of the Lord did reveal himself to the Catholic-who-works-in-an-Abortion-Clinic and did charge her with a Holy Crusade.  “Go forth,” he did proclaim, “And stop the Angels Banishéd from achieving the Unmaking of the World.”  O!, her skepticism aboundeth, but she did sally forth upon her Divine Quest anyway.  Oh, and, since this is a Kevin Smith film, Jay and Silent Bob show up.

Before I write a review here at Film Atheist, I try and check out what the theists have to say about the film.  While this is usually tedious and annoying, there is the occasional unintended hilarity that makes it worth while.  Take, for example, the following excerpt from Steven D. Greydanus’s (in Decent Films Guide) look at the theological failings of Dogma, specifically its reference to God being female:

“…there are good theological reasons for using male pronouns and titles for God.  For example, the Bible speaks of the Church as the ‘Bride’ of Christ, and Christ himself is the ‘Bridegroom.’  The reality behind this symbolism is that God enters us and fills us with his life, and we become spiritually fruitful.”

Ummm… so, the Catholic God is male because He inserts His spiritual, and presumably sizable, God-schlong into us and fills us with His Holy Ejaculate?  Wow.  I believe I have just transcended to whole new celestial planes of “Ew!”

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yes: Dogma.

Dogma is, first and foremost, a “Kevin Smith film.”  For those not familiar with the works of producer/director/writer/actor Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), a “Kevin Smith film” includes:

  • Funny, expletive heavy dialog
  • The state of New Jersey
  • Many gratuitous references to geek culture
  • Many references to drugs and sex
  • The characters Jay and Silent Bob

Now, I enjoy “Kevin Smith films.”  I am, after all, the target demographic: late 20s-early 30s, male, geek.  That said, I’m not going to claim that they are great cinema. They aren’t.  They are, however, amusing, and often that is enough.

Judging from Dogma, it’s possible that Kevin Smith has some issues with modern Catholicism.  Now, I’m not sure what tipped me off.  It could be that the plot involves a loophole in Catholic dogma that could destroy the world.  Maybe it was the fact that the woman who is going to save the world works at an abortion clinic.  I’m betting, though, it’s the 80 bazillion times one character or another launches into a description of his or her beefs with the Catholic Church.  Yeah, subtly is something that Dogma gave wedgies to in High School, and it’s a better film for it.

But, why does an amusing and blatant critique of modern Catholicism get an Atheist Rating of only 2?  Dogma wasn’t easy to rate.  It says so much that is good, points out so much that is bad, and does it all with an excellent sense of the ridiculous.  In the end, though, Dogma‘s problems with traditional Catholicism aren’t those of an atheist.  They are those of a liberal Christian.  For as much as it encourages people to think and play nicely with one another, it still promotes faith and the belief in a supernatural creator-being.  And so, the Atheism Rating being an Atheism Rating, it gets a 2.


Eye of the Devil

Philippe de Montfaucon returns to his ancestral home because of a failed harvest, telling his wife, Catherine, to stay in the city.  But she follows him because if she didn’t, it would be a very short movie.  Once there, she finds it necessary to have excessively long conversations with people who aren’t listening, until the climax, when she still has the conversations, but now shouts her side.  The community consists of sullen cultists (what good is a cult if it doesn’t make you happy?) that look to Philippe to save them in ways that are obvious to the viewer, but beyond the understanding of Catherine.  Granted, she must be distracted by the bizarre de Caray twins, who look exceptionally good in black and have obviously just returned from a beatnik poetry reading.  They have this tendency of attempting to kill Catherine, which even she blows off after Philippe tells her it’s just one of those local activities.  With her husband becoming progressively weirder, and the locals walking around in robes bought at “Satanists are Us,”  Chatherine sets out to slowly solve the mystery, long after we’ve figured it out and gone to buy popcorn.

Interesting primarily as a precursor to the far superior The Wicker Man, and as one of the few films starring the beautiful Sharon Tate (who was murdered by Charles Manson’s cult in 1969), Eye of the Devil waters-down its message, making it of little value.  It doesn’t have enough story for its short running time, and doesn’t bother to fill out its characters.  But the basic concept is strong, and there are signs of a good movie here, buried deep.

Perhaps the problem was in its difficult production.  Most of the film was completed with Kim Novak as Catherine, before an injury caused her to pull out.  All of her scenes had to be re-shot with Deborah Kerr.  It also went through numerous script changes while filming (with a complete change of writing staff), as well as four directors.  I certainly believe that a movie is a collaborative effort, but this is a little extreme.  At the last moment, the title was changed from the appropriate 13 to the one it currently bears.  The switch would have been reasonable if the film had anything to do with the Devil, or his eye, or anything metaphorically connected to either.  But it doesn’t.

Kerr is reasonably believable in the lead, but not compelling.  I never care that she is in danger or that spooky things are happening around her.  Since all the other characters were willing to let things play out, and aren’t acting as people anyway, but as broad, stage-type “creepy villains,” it is impossible to be invested in the story.  With the mystery obvious to anyone brighter than our current president, it becomes harder to put up with the pointless chatter which fills the picture.  Even the cinematography is sub par (although it varies greatly, probably due to the revolving directors), and is annoying when Catherine is locked in her room: as she attempts to break out, the frame rocks back and forth, as if the camera is mounted on a teeter-totter.

When all else fails in a movie, there’s still the theme.  Certainly, there was the opportunity to say something satisfying.  The “horrific” events in the pictures are a result of the beliefs of a group of Christians who see metaphoric truth in the twelve apostles standing by as Jesus died for our sins.  It would have been easy to point out the folly of faith, but the filmmakers try to escape criticism from Christians by implying that there is nothing wrong with standard religions—problems only come from weird pagan cults, no matter how much they turn out to be just another Christian sect.  Since I’m not aware of anyone advocating cults (even though the difference between a “cult” and standard churches is nothing more than numbers), it’s not much of a message.


Fire Serpent

Alien fire serpents, thrown off from the Sun, have been coming to Earth for thousands of years, inspiring Biblical tales of devils and angels.  The most recent one was captured by the U.S. government to use as a weapon, but since this is a really cheap movie, only three people and one stunt man were watching it, so it got away.  Now it’s killing people here and there, because that’s what alien fire serpents do.  Fireman Jake (who I’ll just call Zander) and ex-government scientist Dutch Fallon know the truth, but police chick Chris doesn’t believe them, because it’s a really stupid thing to believe.  Of course it isn’t that simple.  Nope.  You see Agent Cooke and his government assassins are hushing up everything.  Worse, Cooke has become a religious fanatic, and has is own plans.  He thinks the fire serpent is an angel, sent by God to cleanse the world with fire, and he’s going to help it do that.

More than proof of the existence, or lack there of, of God, Fire Serpent is proof that for some, there is no life after cult TV.  Nicholas Brendon helped fight the forces of evil on Buffy the Vampire Slayer for seven years.  Robert Beltran explored the Alpha Quadrant for an equal length of time on Star Trek: Voyager.  Now they’re stuck in low, low, low (did I say “low” enough?  Probably not) budget genre film land.  Still, what do they have to complain about?  I’m sure they’re getting paid more than me.

Fire Serpent is an inoffensive, mildly enjoyable (as in, you won’t mind having seen it if your other option was rearranging your sock drawer) sci-fi monster movie.  If you’re a pyromaniac, it will be your favorite movie since Backdraft.  I guess setting people on fire has become substantially less expensive in recent years.  It doesn’t enter new territory, but I did perk up when Agent Cooke began blurting out Biblical prophecies and calling on the angels to renew the planet with flame.  I’ve heard that kind of gibberish so often from evangelicals and it is always frightening.  Cooke is a pretty typical fanatic who just happens to have access to some nasty toys.

It’s got to make you think: Is it really safe for a fundamentalist Christian to have access to a nuclear weapon?  I don’t just mean the president, but the officers and everyone in-between.  Figure: we’re talking about people who are longing for the end of the world so they can join their beloved Jesus, and think that sinners (i.e. everyone who doesn’t join in on the chanting) deserves to be fried.  Plus, they don’t have to feel guilt or hesitation over their actions because it’s God’s will.  And doesn’t God seem to always need people to carry out his will?  I tend to think we’re safe from a fundie getting control of a flaming extraterrestrial, but there are a lot worse things already on Earth.

How would a fundamentalist react to an actual alien?  As there are tons of books written by fundies that explain how the pyramids were build under the influence of demons, and that UFO sightings can be explained as either the appearance of angels or of devils, I’ve got to bet that they would classify it as a member of the heavenly host or of the hordes of hell, depending on the appearance of the creature.  It is such a simple view of the Universe.

Fire Serpent isn’t particularly deep.  Nor interesting.  But it has a pretty accurate account of why fundies are scary people


The Da Vinci Code

A scholar in desperate need of a new shampoo, and a girl whose identity is obvious from the beginning, become prime suspects in a poorly executed murder, and due to the silliest clues imaginable, find themselves dealing with a religious mystery that could “shake the foundations…”  No.  That could “disrupt the basic…”  Nope, that’s not it either.  OK, how’s this: A mystery that could very mildly effect a few people.

That’s it?!  That’s what Christians around the world were protesting?  That sparked hunger strikes and death threats?  Of course none of those people bothered to see it before going insane.  The Da Vinci Code is an innocuous little thriller that’s just not all that thrilling.  It’s slow, it’s long.  And there’s very little to offend anyone who isn’t a mumbling zealot.

And that’s where it goes wrong.  The movie takes its time, pulls back on action, excitement, and emotional highs and lows, because it is counting on the shock value of the basic premise to carry the show.  And it would, if it was all that shocking.  If the film really bashed the viewers with something wild (think Texas Chain Saw Massacre), then it would be smart to keep everything else tame.  But don’t expect anything to blow your socks off.  Even Catholics who haven’t missed a mass in fifty years aren’t going to be traumatized.  For atheists, there’s nothing here.

For the six or seven of you out there who don’t know what the great religious secret is, well, I’m not going to tell you.  The movie would be minutely better if you went in without knowing.  But besides not being an overwhelming idea, The Da Vinci Code doesn’t even say that this twist is true.  It gives an out for every religious indictment.  Yes, it suggests something that goes against most Christian doctrine, but then it turns out to just be one group’s view and could be wrong.  There are some nasty folks within the Catholic hierarchy, but they are acting alone and are not backed by the Pope or Church teachings.  So, the story is just about two secret organizations that have been at odds for years over a minor difference in dogma.  Gosh, isn’t that original?

Which leaves us with the mystery procedural aspect.  Unfortunately, the film stumbles there as well.  Our heroes discover very little.  Most of the clues are fed to them (worse, as they are being told everything, Langdon, the symbol scholar, is agreeing or arguing, so he evidently knew it all before).  All that’s left is a prosaic treasure hunt.

“Luck” is the word of the day.  Or call it deus ex machina.  This is a film where people just happen to go to the one person in the world that will help the plot along, and where violent death is averted by the perfectly timed rustling of some pigeons; apparently some gunman are easily distracted.

It isn’t a complete mess.  It has a heavy-weight cast, and if few do their best work, these are still some pretty entertaining actors.  You may find pleasure in watching the unraveling of some of the puzzles.  The movie’s best moments belong to Paul Bettany as Silas, the albino assassin of the secretive Opus Dei order.  He’s one weird bastard, and should go on anyone’s list of someone you don’t want to be chased by in a major museum.

With such poor pacing and long length, attractive cinematography would have helped, but The Da Vinci Code is an ugly movie.  Many of the scenes look like they were shot with natural light.  The frame is often too dark, but occasionally it’s washed out.  It’s always grainy.  And we spend the entire film invading Hanks and Tautou’s personal space.  Hey, guys, pull the camera back!

The Da Vinci Code isn’t offensive to Christians.  Nor is it problematic for Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Satanists, or atheists.  It isn’t much of anything.  If you are making a religious-themed film, you really ought to tick someone off (that is, with the actual content, not just with what fanatics are assuming the flick is like).


The Count of Monte Cristo

A naive but faithful man gets the Job treatment, losing his freedom, possessions, family, and love.  Somehow, he becomes bitter over this (I can’t see why), and loses his faith in God (or maybe he loses his faith in God and then becomes bitter, since it’s clear that only nonbelievers are bitter).  Naturally, as an atheist, he has no morals and is consumed by thoughts of revenge.  Unable to take joy in anything, even his bloody deeds, he is brought back to God and sees the folly of his ways.  Amen.

I was very fond of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo when I read it many, many years ago.  I was also a fan of the 1934 film staring Robert Donat.  So, I was quite surprised upon watching this newest version that I was completely wrong about the theme and plot.  I thought it was a light adventure yarn (with some nice, dark moments) about a wronged man seeking revenge, when really it was an overly serious morality play about the dangers of losing God.  Huh.

In this The Count of Monte Cristo, whenever possible, somebody blurts out that God is “in everything.”  Mercedès recites it like she’s gazing at the Virgin Mary, for no reason but to slide another dose of Christianity into the picture.  She prefaces it with:

I don’t know what dark plan lies within you. Nor do I know by what design we were asked to live without each other these 16 years. But God has offered us a new beginning.

So, she (and thus the writer) believes that God is involved to the extent that He is responsible for offering this new beginning.  Where was God when Edmond was getting his life pulled apart?  This is one scumbag of a God.

The old hermit has his “God is everywhere” moment too, but he was a priest, so it seems a reasonable thing for him to babble.  Edmond spends a lot of time saying “God is absent” during the section of the flick when he’s grumpy (because atheists are grumpy folk), but switches back to “God’s all around” when he’s happy.  Watching the film today, I’m not surprised by Edmond’s obsessive preoccupation with God, but it seemed odd when I first saw it in 2002.  That was before Jim Caviezel took the role of the hit-me-baby-one-more-time Jesus in Mel Gibson’s porn experience, The Passion of the Christ.  This was just practice for him.  He got to be tied up, show some skin, and then get whipped.  I’m seeing a pattern here.  Since gay S&M films are the next step, I’m not clear what his career plans are.

During the segments when someone isn’t either praising God or noting his absence, is this Monte Cristo any fun?  Eh.  It’s OK.  It is maudlin from the beginning (and over-acted; what happened to the Guy Pearce from L.A. Confidential?) but it’s not bad for a depressing swashbuckler, at least for about an hour.  Then things turn sour.  Jay Wolpert must have figured he knew better than Alexandre Dumas, so he dumped the end of the novel, replacing it with revenge scenarios that no longer relate to the victims, a mixed up paternity (don’t ask; it’s best not to think about it), and a climactic sword duel instead of a trial.  I am a fan of swashbucklers and love a good swordfight (which this really isn’t.  Hint: if your duelists spend more time running back and forth and searching for their swords in the grass than attacking each other, you need to work on your fight choreography), but I prefer there to be some emotional drama involved.  Or some laughs.  Neither are here.

If Caviezel had given some life to Edmond, or any of the villains had been threatening, then The Count of Monte Cristo might have worked as a hardcore revenge film.  But probably not, since Luis Guzmán plays the Count’s sidekick purely for laughs.  And any movie with this bad a Superman/Clark Kent problem (Dantes hasn’t changed during his years in prison, yet no one recognizes him because he’s grown a goatee; couldn’t this production afford some makeup for Caviezel so that he’d at least look older?) needs to keep things light.

Richard Harris has some nice moments as the tutor.  The scenery is attractive, the ship looks nice, and there are swordfights, even if they aren’t high caliber ones.  There are even a few humorous lines (which are very noticeable in the sea of wretched, melodramatic dialog).  But unfortunately, it is a perfect fit with the other Dumas failures, The Man in the Iron Mask and The Musketeer, forming an unholy trinity.  The only thing that makes it stand out: it has 20% more God.



Eleanor, a driven scientist and skeptic, because her mommy and daddy are gone, finds a message from extraterrestrials with instructions on how to build a really big ball.  She also discovers super-Christian and telescope groupie, Palmer Joss, and since he looks like Matthew McConaughey, she sleeps with him, but then ignores him because, you know…the daddy thing.  Lots of people argue endlessly (really, it never stops) about how only God-types should get into the really big ball, but Eleanor is helped by a rich nut who floats around and is only in the movie to further the plot.  Oh, there’s a terrorist too, but that part is too silly to discuss.  So, Eleanor must fight evil religious guys and her own lack of faith until she can reunite with Palmer Joss (I’m not kidding, his name is Palmer Joss) and realize that we’re all religious, in our own way, so its OK to sleep with him, even if daddy is gone.

What makes Contact so excruciating, so painfully unpleasant that it sends any alert film critic into spasms, gnawing at his own leg in hopes of escaping, is the insidiousness of it.  Coming as it does from a book by atheist and scientist Carl Sagan, it pretends to be an intelligent look at the implications of extraterrestrial life.  It’s not.  What it is is a love letter to religion.  At least The Passion of the Christ makes no bones about what it is.  It clearly states Jesus exists and he got the shit kicked out of him for you, so you better be grateful.  Contact‘s message is much more dangerous and tries to hide under a false aura of intellectualism.  The message: Science is a religion.  Atheism is a religion.  And of course, Christianity is a religion.  It’s all religion, so let’s all worship together.

Director Robert Zemeckis, who is quite adept when working with comedy (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) is lost when the subject becomes sincere, and there is black, viscous sincerity hemorrhaging from Contact.  You can almost hear Zemeckis shouting “I’m so meaningful” as part of the soundtrack.  With his ode to stupidity, Forest Gump (a far superior movie, and that should frighten you), Zemekis learned the basics of pretentious storytelling, and he’s mastered it here.  Keeping the plot moving just slightly faster than a complete stop (because slow things are more sincere), his characters preach, lecture, and cry for the camera (everything is aimed at the viewer; this is hardly a movie at all; it’s more of a lecture on the meaning of life).  And because it worked in Forest Gump, he sticks his actors in footage with a celebrity, this time President Clinton.  But it isn’t for laughs now.  It, like everything in Contact, is in deadly earnest.

To earn its pseudo-intellectual street-cred, the villains are religious.  One’s a pure zealot, one’s a political/religious demagogue, and another is a hypocrite using Christianity for his own gain.  They are all a smokescreen.  The only complete and happy person is Palmer Joss.  He is the voice of truth, reason, and purity.  And he is the president’s religious advisor.  He’s the goal.  You see, once you have faith, everything is OK.  And that’s the route of the film.  It’s all about Eleanor finding God.  Oh, this is large-tent Christianity, so God is such a broad concept as to be even more meaningless than usual.  But then it doesn’t matter what God is, as long as you believe.

The way that Eleanor finds her faith has become a South Park joke.  I’ll only say that her great trip into the beyond to meet aliens is…anticlimactic.

Contact is a horrible film, both from an atheistic/free thinking/philosophical/intellectual perspective, and in terms of general storytelling.  It is not only ignorant, but dishonest—a Trojan horse for scientists.  Beware of Hollywood Christians bearing gifts.


Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Four children find a magical passage in a wardrobe to a strange land of talking animals, fauns, centaurs, and an evil witch, who may or may not be Satan, depending on how much you want to stretch the analogy.  A prophecy proclaims that the coming of four youths will mean the end of the witch’s reign, which makes her a bit peevish.  Luckily, a furry Jesus is there to reenact a passion play before saving everyone, making it pointless for the kids to have shown up in the first place.

It is always a bit creepy to realize that the seven-book Chronicles of Narnia series is propaganda for children.  Through allegory, metaphors, and, as Lewis considered it, speculations on what it would be like if Jesus popped up in a different world, the stores sneak into a child’s mind, getting him to believe rather than think.  This is the most dangerous kind of propaganda, creating black-clad Christian Templar-Ninjas, who sneak out at night to destroy unbelievers in the name of Aslan, as there is but one Aslan, and Lewis is his prophet…

Except it doesn’t work that way.  There’s no kid’s army.  No Children’s inquisition, no matter how you might view the boy scouts.  Sure the books are Christian propaganda, but the thing about hiding your religion in symbols is that your readers might miss it.  Certainly no adult will.  For anyone over the age of eighteen, the message is so obvious it has the same effect as someone screaming in your face—with his spittle hitting your nose—that God is great.  Even a believer is going to get annoyed.  But these are kid’s books, and while Children can be quite clever, they tend not to be at their best when forced to interpret the theological experience via pagan representations.  At least not until they are at least eight.  It’s still kind of creepy, just not all that important.

Literary scholar and pop Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis was a troubled man.  Abused in a series of boarding schools (and his time in the trenches of WWI probably didn’t help), he was a sexually unfulfilled submissive, who meekly took orders from his thirty-years older married lover at home, and a domineering, spiteful, luddite in the classroom.  He was also highly intelligent with reasonable writing skills and a keen interest in mythology.  An atheist who longed for a world that fit the great folk legends, he was converted to Christianity by J.R.R. Tolkien (yes, that’s the Lord of the Rings guy for anyone who reads this but not books), who pointed out how much the story of Jesus matched the pagan myths.  Tolkien was pleased with his success, but less pleased when Lewis joined the Anglican church instead of becoming Catholic, even less pleased when he wrote Narnia (which Tolkien hated, finding the religious framework too confining), and still less pleased, to the point of giving up on his friend when Lewis took up with the less-than-proper Joy Gresham.  The final bit was actually Lewis’s salvation, though a bit late in life.  In the arms, and more importantly the bed, of a passionate woman, Lewis apparently recovered from his sexual problems, discovered ecstasy in something other than the abstract, and tempered his religious fanaticism.  The Chronicles of Narnia were written after his conversion but before his salvation.

The books are full of the mixed messages of an overly devout and troubled man who could not rise above the prejudices of his time.  While females are given the most important roles, they are often denigrated, particularly if they don’t accept their traditional social position or show signs of sexuality.  The most famous example is that Susan is kept from Heaven because she becomes a sexually mature female.  The novels also show a strong bias for English imperialism (but then so do most of the Swashbucklers, so these flaws should be kept in perspective), and the villains are referred to as “darkies.”  It’s not exactly what I find desirable in children’s literature.  I’m more of a Winnie The Pooh kind of guy.

For the film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Disney and company stuck pretty close to the book (as best that I can recall; I didn’t find it necessary to re-read it for this review).  The Christian symbolism is everywhere, but it is much harder to notice and easy to ignore.  Outside of Aslan’s crucifixion, the religious elements are vague.  However, the film, like the books, has an uninteresting plot due to the Christian belief that you cannot save yourself.  Good stories pit humans against some kind of adversary and have them work out a way of winning the struggle (or they fail).  But in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, none of the actions of the four leads makes any difference.  It’s the lion that matters.  What he does will determine the outcome (he is God, after all)  After spending two hours with these people, I would have liked to have seen them do something.  But the point is that Jesus saves.  All people have to do is wait and have faith.

So, the story goes nowhere, and the characters don’t matter.  But what The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has is pretty special effects.  You think effects can’t make a movie?  Wrong.  This is pretty, pretty stuff: talking animal that walk on two legs, flying griffons, centaurs that actually look like centaurs.  Damn, these people knew how to run a computer.  Yes, people have suggested that a movie should have a good plot and interesting characters, with clever dialog and deep themes.  Well, sometimes.  And sometimes they have cool CGI work.


Child of Darkness, Child of Light

Father Justin O’Carroll is a Vatican miracle-investigator so common in movies.  His latest job is to check on two teenage girls who are pregnant and claiming to be virgins (yeah, that old story).  If they are telling the truth, one is carrying a fetal Christ, and the other is carrying a fetal Antichrist.  With the help of Sister Anne, one of those sexy and occasionally naked nuns that fill the Catholic church, he must determine which is which, because none of these people ever read The Bible so they don’t know what’s supposed to happen.

Child of Darkness, Child of Light is the film you make if you don’t have much money and realize that someone already made The Omen.  It starts with the same premise, then ignores Revelations and tosses in an early Second Coming of Christ (and isn’t he supposed to pop in as an adult the second time?  I guess the Bible is vague on all the interesting stuff).  Gone are ferocious dogs and dark Satanic deeds.  In their place are crows.  Granted, these are pretty nasty crows as they manage to kill people, but a crow isn’t my idea of the coming apocalypse.  More my idea of the coming corn harvest.

The idea of the Antichrist, even if matched by The Second Coming, is fitting for suspenseful horror, but here it is a mystery because it is cheaper to shoot a guy asking questions and dwelling on the answers than demonic creatures creating chaos.  But if you’re going to construct a mystery, you should make the answers important to the viewer and relevant to the film’s world.  The question here is: which girl will give birth to the Son of God, and which to the Son of Satan?  And the answer is: Who cares?  The two girls are painted with the same brush.  Both are nice, clean-cut schoolgirls with similar home lives, and they take up equal screen time.  Both are living through the same events, which, unfortunately, the filmmakers decide to show us (so we see everything twice, a huge problem for pacing and for keeping the audience awake).  There is no sentimental favorite for the viewer, so what difference does it make?

While the investigation is taking place, The Devil (as well as God) is strangely silent.  What the good priest finds is that being a pregnant teen takes all the fun out of study hall.  Now I’m sure you can make an interesting movie about the trials of a pregnant high school student, but when the end of the world is at stake, how badly schoolmates tease isn’t gripping.  Things pick up at the end, but that doesn’t excuse the dullness that came before.

For a film that accepts the existence of God, The Devil, Jesus, and virgin births, follows a faithful priest and a nun, and is vaguely based on The Bible, it might be considered strange that I gave the film an extra , but this is a movie uninterested in religion.  The setting is merely a fantasy setting.  No one is trying to convert you or cares what you believe.  Since it is concerned with mystery over fright, it isn’t important for the viewer to believe in the devil to feel all those scary bits.