“The cattle are lowing…”

Alfred Hitchcock was probably the most brilliant film director in a day of stellar directors. This was in large part because he knew how to get the best out of actors. In his films he gave precise direction to his players. The scriptwriters put the words into their mouths and Hitchcock told them how to say those words and how to stand and move as they did so.

Not for Hitchcock method acting or the actor contributing his ideas to the production. Actors were there to do the director’s precise bidding and had about the same contribution to the film as pieces of wood to Chippendale furniture. Hitchcock is famously reported as saying, “Actors are cattle. Disney probably had the right idea. He draws them and if doesn’t like them he tears them up.”

Prior to the release of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader the latest in the Narnia films Liam Neeson has just proved how prescient Hitchcock was. Neeson, who paradoxically provides the voice of Aslan the Lion, claims that Aslan could just as easily be Allah or Buddha as he could be Christ.

Neeson said: ‘Aslan symbolises a Christ-like figure but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries… That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids.’

Anyone who troubles to read the Narnia books can see that the author CS Lewis, one of the greatest popular apologists for Christianity in the 20th century, makes it clear that there is only one God and that He has taken action in Christ to free the world. Surely The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on which Neeson also worked, with its clear allegories of crucifixion and resurrection, would cause the penny to drop for any thinking person.

But not for an actor. Tilda Swinton who played the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe took the same line. “Faith is in the eye of the beholder,” claimed Swinton, who said the original book was more “spiritual” than religious.

At least this was better than Philip Pullman author of His Dark Materials an atheist allegorical trilogy the first of which was filmed as The Golden Compass . Pullman described the Narnia Chronicles as “racist” and “misogynous.”

“If the Disney corporation wants to market this film as a great Christian story, they’ll just have to tell lies about it,” he said.

Why should Neeson, who admits to never having read the Narnia Chronicles, come out with such nonsense? Perhaps he has been fed a steady diet of cultural relativism, the “All religions are just differing paths up the same mountain,” bilge. Perhaps he just doesn’t want to offend any non-Christians in a politically correct gesture. He may be trying to protect the box office by saying this is a film for everyone. Or he may just be an actor who is best when he allows others to tell him what to say.

Although Neeson may not have read much Derrida or Lyotard his position is in accord with the thrust of modern philosophy. It is commonly held that in any work the author’s original intent is no more relevant to the interpretation of his or her work than the interpretation the reader brings to the book, painting or film.

The author of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader would have simply denied that. He wrote that the “whole Narnian story is about Christ”. Lewis could not have been clearer and any unprejudiced reader could not come to any other conclusion.

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About Campbell

Now retired but once upon a time a parish minister in Glasgow, before that the South West and initially the Black Isle. Been a prison chaplain and lecturer. Still am constantly bemused by the weird world around me.
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2 Responses to “The cattle are lowing…”

  1. Jennifer Clark says:

    I suspect your assertion that the actors are working as mouthpieces for the film marketing/production departments is the most likely one in this instance. In that sense, they are behaving precisely as actors in the “Disney” method you describe.

    As you point out, for the film to be perceived as having an overtly Christian theme would reduce its audience in this multicultural world, and perhaps worse, render in unfashionable. These points would not have escaped the notice of the marketing department.

    It does annoy me, however, when I hear about actors undertaking serious work without doing the appropriate background reading.

    Despite this, I still plan on seeing the film!

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