Saturday, May 24, 2008

SimianD vs. The Star's movie reviewers

I thought I could delay the writing of this brief piece, but today's Star Weekender was the last straw. I have a score to settle with three of The Star's movie reviewers, and I will take them on one at a time.

Note that these are my own opinions, nothing more and nothing less.

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Number One: S. Indramalar

Last Friday (16 May), the day after its release, The Star ran a review on Prince Caspian by S. Indramalar, who said the movie would have been better off without its overtly religious overtones.

I couldn't agree less. C.S. Lewis meant for his Chronicles to be a religious allegory, or at least a series of children's books which took both children and the discussion of religious themes seriously. To strip it of its religious themes in keeping with the times is sheer stupidity.

Oddly enough, the masses and the media lament religion, yet at the same time wonder why society is apparently becoming more corrupt. As Lewis himself wrote in The Abolition of Man;

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

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Number Two: Mumtaj Begum

Yesterday, these words were printed in Star Two;

Again, it is very hard going beyond that insipid Prince Caspian (sorry, Ben Barnes) who from time to time throws these half-longing looks at the haughty Susan (seriously, is that necessary?)...

Now I don't claim to fully understand what Mumtaj meant by necessity, but if the limerance between Caspian and Susan is here in question, I think it was actually quite a clever move on the part of the movie's writers.

Such a relationship is not at all hinted at in the original book by C.S. Lewis, but in the final book, The Last Battle, Susan is described as having forsook all she had learnt in Narnia to chase after the pleasures of the world. Whatever one may have to say about the way in which it was done, I believe the idea of Susan having 'one foot in the water, and one foot in the sand' is a promising foundation on which to build the developments in the later books.

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Number Three: Hari Azizan

In today's Weekender, Hari Azizan ended her review thus;

For me, the real interesting point is the tacit romantic attraction between Caspian and Queen Susan--not because of the relief it provides from the same old boring war scenes but rather the interesting, albeit more politically correct, take it offers on Susan's coming of age.

C.S. Lewis has long been criticised for the sexist way he handled Susan's puberty and the discovery of her 'sexuality' in the Narnia books. (She is described as being obsessed with her looks and boys' attention, making her unacceptable for Narnia in the ending of the series).

(To her credit, Hari's review has more substance than Indramalar's and Mumtaj's, and demonstrates a little more familiarity with Lewis's work.)

I watched Prince Caspian yesterday, and I must say that it wasn't as good as I'd hoped. Already The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe fell short of my expectations (as a movie, strictly speaking); Caspian was worse. Hari blames it on the obsession with battle scenes, and I couldn't agree more.

In the book, Lewis spends a long time allowing the drama to unfold via the telling of Caspian's story by the dwarf Trumpkin, and the battle only occurs in a small part at the end. While I'm not a book purist and while I also understand that drama in literature cannot always be translated to the same effect onscreen, I don't think the (added) siege of King Miraz's castle in the movie was warranted. It looked like a rehash of the battle scenes in Wardrobe.

(Also, I was quite disappointed with two things in particular: the fact that Aslan gets remarkably little screen time despite a strong presence in the Caspian book, and that no mention was made of Caspian's original tutor, a female dwarf-Telmarine. I especially enjoyed the part in the book when Aslan overturns the house in which she is bedridden and brings her to Caspian.)

But I digress.

I think Hari's accusation of Lewis as being sexist is baseless. And even if he could be considered 'sexist' in some ways (by not letting girls fight in battle), it is not the kind of sexism we know today. The trouble begins when one reads this book written in the fifties through the eyes of society some fifty years later.

At any rate the Chronicles of Narnia can hardly be considered sexist because in every story, girls and boys are featured in equal prominence, from The Magician's Nephew through The Horse and His Boy to The Last Battle itself. In fact in most (if not all) of the books, the female protagonists are frequently portrayed as the wiser of the two sexes.

And on Susan's unfitness for Narnia, it was not because of her puberty or sexuality, but as Hari correctly pointed out, her obsession. I actually think it's one of the saddest moments in the entire series; sad becuase her siblings had to go on without her, and sad especially because it shows that even a Queen of Narnia can turn her back on it.

In the most direct Christian context, teenagers who turn away from God despite a Christian upbringing immediately come to mind. I think it was a warning Lewis wanted to hammer home to his readers, i.e. that the choice between God and the world is very real. What are the things we are obsessed with? Again it is NOT about puberty and sexuality and growing up; rather, it's about how we choose to grow. Peter, Edmund and Lucy also grew, but they chose not to forget Narnia.

The words of the Christ ring true: we cannot serve both God and money.


Melody Goh said...

hi ben

i have not watched caspian yet, but i do have to admit that, your commentaries on susan's behaviour have been rather insightful.

and anyway, just to let you know that i've tagged you.


Anonymous said...

wow... wat a thorough review... thanks for the thoughts!!