"This is going to be like Batman Begins, isn't it Mom?" Paul said with a deep sign as I finished my post-movie analysis this afternoon. He was referring to my obsession (a point of both embarassment and great amusement to my 12-year-old sons) with the 2005 movie that I am convinced had deeply spiritual themes. But it's not such a stretch to read a religious message within "Prince Caspian", the movie Rosa and I saw this afternoon. The movie is based on the book by C.S. Lewis who was clear that the stories were meant to be religious allegories.
But the Christian themes are much more explicit in the preceding "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (both the book and the movie). Many of the reviews I scanned on Rotten Tomatoes were pleased that in "Prince Caspian" the religious messages were more "subtle", and the emphasis was instead on telling an exciting action story. One exception is Ty Burr, reviewer for the Boston Globe, who had this analysis:
"Prince Caspian" may be effective entertainment, but Walden Media, the production company backed by Christian billionaire Philip Anschutz, has given American family audiences something they really don't need at the moment: A primer on the benefits of holy war.
I totally disagree, but I think it's fascinating that the more subtle, more complex spiritual message of this movie seems to have largely slipped by the reviewers. This is all the more odd because the characters constantly ask each other the central question: Why doesn't Aslan come and intervene when we need him? Why can't I see Aslan? Why has Aslan been absent from our world for so long? This is a very real spiritual question, and the fact that Aslan does appear in the movie doesn't mean that it has a simple answer.
I think the whole movie (and the book) is a somewhat playful exploration of the idea of "call". Now, this is such a big theme at KC that I realize I was primed to find it in the movie, but hear me out. The story starts because Prince Caspian calls Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy back to Narnia because he is in crisis. But they don't appear to him instantly, and when he finally runs into them, he's disappointed. "I thought you'd be older," he tells them, clearly surprised to encounter "saviors" who are about his own age. As the Narnians kings and queens try to help Caspian, they each do their own share of wishing they'd be rescued by someone else. When Aslan fails to appear as they had hoped or expected, they even have an encounter with some evil powers who have been waiting to be called on.
But in the end, they have to call up from themselves the bravery and ingenuity to battle their opponents. Only then does Aslan appear, but instead of arriving as the external savior they have each been calling for throughout the movie, he comes as one who calls even the sleeping trees and the water to wake up to the life which lies within them. In the end, Aslan just stands as a proud witness to a world that has come fully alive.
When you see the movie in this light, one of the most beautiful scenes becomes one of the most emblematic: early on, when Peter and his siblings have just arrived in Narnia, they explore a ruined castle, slowly realizing that a great deal of time has passed since they last visiting Narnia. They recognize a secret door, and enter into a basement chamber, well-preserved and containing four large gold chests, each under a statue. Each child opens up his or her chest and discovers there the fine clothes and armor of their Narnian selves. Lucy holds up a dress and exclaims, "I was so much taller then!"
The magical wardrobe is gone, but now these chests become the doorway to discovery. While before the children discover the cosmic powers of good and evil, now they discover their own true selves. Stepping into these selves, they become taller, braver, and wiser than those whose lives are shaped by lies and deceit and domination. The world they go on to create is therefore more expansive and free.
This message is far from a call to "holy war". In fact, it may well be its antidote.