by Olivia Nowland
Although it is not always apparent, religious and spiritual discourses are frequently being marketed, and thus constantly permeate, pop-culture (Lynch, 2005). Film is no exception to this saturation of religious content, in fact, religion quite often shapes or features aspects of the storyline and the characters. The following essay will review two films that have major religious influences: Adamson’s (2005) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Jennings’ (2005) The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. It will review these films under the threefold model presented by Martin (1995) to examine religion in film: theological critique, mythological critique and ideological critique. In order to put the films into context, first, a brief overview will be given of the storylines.
The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe (Adamson, 2005) follows the story of four children; Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy during the second World War. The children are moved to the country for their safety and whilst they are there, they find a doorway into another world, ruled by the ‘evil’ white witch. Edmund betrays his siblings in support of the white witch, but eventually realises he has made a mistake. Aslan (a lion and creator of Narnia) offers himself in place of Edmund for sacrifice. However, he comes back to life and eventually defeats the white witch.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Jennings, 2005) tells the story of Arthur Dent who, after the Earth is destroyed, literally hitchhikes his way around the galaxy with alien companions. The movie focuses around the group finding the answer to “life, the universe and everything”, and the strange encounters they have along the way. It is important to note that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is socially satirical in nature, and while it provides the writer’s attitudes towards religion, it was not designed to educate (Gee, 2005).
The theological critique stems from the writers/directors want to position the audience to uncover a specific theological schema such as; the battle of good and evil, redemption or peace (Martin, 1995; Nolan, 2003). Furthermore, by examining a film using the theological critique, the audience is also encouraged to extrapolate religious stories (Nolan, 2003).
The battle of good and evil, and theme of redemption are particularly prevalent themes in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The obvious battle is between the children and Aslan against the white witch. However, this movie also presents the more subtle battle between calm (represented by the return of regular seasons and peace between creatures) and chaos (where Narnia is winter all the time “but never Christmas”(Adamson, 2005), and all the animals are suspicious of one another), a theme which is consistent throughout Judeo-Christian theology (e.g. Joshua 3). Redemption is explored through Edmund, after he has gained Aslan’s forgiveness and Aslan sacrifices himself in Edmunds place.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy does note lend itself to theological criticism. In fact, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy promotes an atheistic and satirical outlook on religion. Despite this, themes theological criticisms are still present. As in most movies, there is the theme of good vs. evil. As well as this, a creation narrative also makes an appearance, the movie stating that: in the beginning the universe as created, however, “this was regarded by many as a bad move”. Although The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy casts an unbelief over religion, it still communicates theological messages in order to make its point.
Mythological critique is used to examine the use of religious myth and/or epic journey’s of the characters. Martin (1995) argues that the mythology of a culture reveals their foundational beliefs, he also recognises three major stages in the mythological storyline; the separation, the initiation and the return.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is no exception the mythological critique. The characters of this story go on an epic journey, where they are separated from their own world, initiated as kings and queens in the new world, and then return home when they have done their jobs as heroines/heroes. The myth of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe draws a direct parallel to the story of Jesus, revealing the belief system and message of the original story teller, C.S. Lewis (Christian-Fandom, 2006).
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, also follows the pattern of separation, initiation and return. The adventurers go on the quest for the meaning of life, and are given the answer ‘42’. After encountering many obstacles, they discover that the answer is within them and are then able to continue their lives, somewhat, normally.
The ideological critique focuses on the way religion shapes how the storyline continues/character acts, ultimately working towards “ideological ends”(Martin, 1995, p. 11).
Both movies work towards ideological ends, ultimately letting the character’s realise what they are capable of, as well as what they should work towards. The characters in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe work towards a peaceful Narnia using Christian values (such as selflessness and forgiveness) to aid them.
Despite The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, atheistic undertones, the characters are ultimately working toward ideological ends as well. On top of this, they are also working towards the goal of many religions, the meaning of life. Following Martin’s (1995, p. 10) argument, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy both shapes and is shaped by religion.
In summary, it has been found that aspects of religion permeate film, even in circumstances where the film does not attempt to relay the message of a particular religion. By using Martin’s (1995) model for analysing film and religion, these influences can be extrapolated and categorised into three distinct groups; theological, mythological and ideological. Through an understanding of religion’s influence on film and film’s influence on religion a deeper understanding can be gained about the storylines and character’s influences in Hollywood.
Adamson, A. (Writer). (2005). The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. In A. Adamson (Producer). USA/UK: Walt Disney Pictures.
Christian-Fandom. (2006, November 2006). The Lion the Witch and the Wardobe (2005), 2010, from http://www.christian-fandom.org/fantasy/wardrobe05.html
Gee, H. (2005). Proof of Faith? Nature News. doi: 0.1038/news050425-7
Jennings, G. (Writer). (2005). The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In D. Adams, T. Arnow, G. Barber, R. Birnbaum, D. Evans, J. Glickman, N. Goldsmith, C. Hewitt, J. Roach, R. Rudd & R. Stamp (Producer). USA/UK: Touchstone Pictures.
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Nolan, S. (2003). Towards a New Religious Film Criticism: Film to Undestand Religious Identity Rather than Locate Cinematic Analogue. In J. Mitchell & S. Marriage (Eds.), Mediating Religion: Conversations in Media, Reigion and Culture. London: T & T Clark.