Anyone who doubts that The Golden Compass - the movie of Philip Pullman's novel Northern Lights - is "anti-religious" should, er, go see the movie. It's a tremendous entertainment, loved every minute of it. Its implicit line on the Catholic Church (hostile) is clear in the first 20 minutes. The world of this fantasy is dominated by the "Magisterium, which seeks to control all of humanity, and whose greatest threat is the last remaining Golden Compass and the one child destined to possess it," to quote New Line Cinema. America's Catholic League claim this is a direct assault on Ratzi's church. They are probably right, but read on ...
"Magisterium" - or the teaching authority of the Catholic Church - connotes ecclesiastical power, and for further explanation, see Fr William G. Most's (from Ch 5 of The Basic Catholic Catechism): "By the Magisterium we mean the teaching office of the Church. It consists of the Pope and Bishops. Christ promised to protect the teaching of the Church: 'He who hears you, hears me; he who rejects your rejects me, he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me' (Luke 10 vs 16)."
In today's Sunday Times, Pullman tells the world he likes the movie - well, he would, wouldn't he? Despite the hacking, dilution, re-writing, it's a fair transubstantiation of the book with its anti-Catholic message masked but to the seeker of insult or affirmation. To a child or other innocent, the Magisterium will be just another power villain like Darth Vader or Cruella. In his piece Pullman artfully dodges the religion question and focuses on how he tolerated and welcomed the softening Hollywoodisation process. He writes: "What has impressed me about the reaction of New Line has been its clear commitment to the democratic value of openness and free expression."
He adds: "[New Line] knows full well (it bought the rights and read the books) that the tendency of the story is towards celebrating those very qualities, and other values such as humane-ness, kindness, intellectual curiosity and a sense of the wonder and the beauty of the physical universe, and it is not afraid to tell a story that criticises religious intolerance and hypocrisy." To read his piece click here.
This is very good (one of the film's stars, Daniel Craig, religiously parroted this line in interviews this week), but of course no studio could release a film on the premise that the Catholic Church (or any church) is intolerant or hypocritical - and here's an entertainment to show you how it is. There are laws against that sort of thing. So, we stuff ourselves with popcorn while thinking: "We know what this is about, oh yes. Fuck what Pullman has to say in public."
So, a great film, shame about the necessary subterfuge.