1 Star - Disturbing

Having never read “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Philip Pullman which he supposedly wrote for the children of atheists, it is difficult to know whether those books are effective.  It is very clear that the film version of the first book “The Golden Compass” is not.  It is convoluted and boring.

Though the theme is clearly one of encouraging “free thinking” people to overthrow the control of the “Magisterium”, which is a lightly-veiled allusion to the institutional church, director and screenwriter Chris Weitz fills the film with religious and spiritual themes:  The humans have souls, albeit animal ones that live outside their bodies called Daemons, reflecting the human’s personality and character.  The universe has a destiny as noted by the prophecy about the importance of Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), though no indication is provided for who has given such prophetic revelation.  There are witches who have the supernatural power to fly and who join the “free thinkers” and the Gyptians (a cross between gypsies and pirates) to fight against the church.  The Magisterium meets in buildings that are obviously based on St. Peter’s cathedral and courtyard in Rome.  And the armor of the banished prince of the armored bears, lorek Brynison (voice by Ian McKellen), is being held in an Orthodox church indicated by the Christian icons painted on its walls.  In other words, this film does not describe a materialistic world-view for atheistic children to admire.   Instead, it presents a disturbing mixture of religious and spiritual symbols and ideas, most of which are inverted such that good is bad and bad is good.

Even the title of the film is misleading.  The compass is not a compass at all.  It is an Alethiometer.  In the hands of Lyra, who someone has destined to possess and has also given the gift of interpretation, the altethiometer shows the truth about the questions she asks. The implication that truth is all she needs is itself contradicted when she is deceived by Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman) and must be saved by the Gyptians.  This becomes an ongoing action of the film as Lyra is saved by others throughout the story and the alethiometer is reduced to little more than a parlor-trick.

There are some interesting ideas presented.  One is that there is a dust that permeates our universe and all parallel universes.  Though not explained, it is clear that the Magisterium wants to destroy this dust which it sees as harmful and the “free thinkers”, which includes Lyra and her father Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), want to keep that from happening.  This opposing view of the nature and source of dust is a theme that obviously will be continued in the next films to come if the trilogy is completed.

“The Golden Compass” is a film trying to preach an atheistic message.  The difficulty is that a truly atheistic world would have humans without souls and life without mystery.  That it would be a boring world is perhaps why this film cannot decide what is really true, alethiometer or not.



  1. Can you imagine a world in which humans have no soul?  One in which we are only animals?  Why do you believe that even this film could not present such a worldview?
  2. The experiments that the Magisterium was doing on children was to separate them from their souls.  Why do you think the film presents such a view of the church?  Do you believe the church separates a person from their soul?   If so how do you see this occurring?
  3. The belief in truth in and of itself, without belief in love has created difficulty even within the church as seen in such instances as the Spanish Inquisition.  Have you ever used truth to harm someone or have you been harmed by someone who used truth to hurt you instead of “truthing it in love” as the Bible teaches?  What did you learn from such an experience?
  4. Do you believe a film like this is harmful to those who view it?  Why or why not?
Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 1 STAR, DISTURBING.