“I Read the Book”
Have you ever starting telling someone about a movie or TV show you watched, and you ask if he’s seen it, and you get the response, “I read the book”. And the person says it in such sanctimonious way, like reading is morally superior to viewing. Does that ever irk you?
Anyway, I’d like to write about a couple of movies I haven’t seen. But I have read the books they’re based on.
These two films, Atonement and The Kite Runner, hadn’t been released at press time. And for some reason writers from Time Magazine and the Washington Post get press screenings but the studios don’t bother with the staff of this blog. Go figure.
But I have read that both films stayed true to their sources. If so they, like the books they’re based on, will share interesting thematic similarities. Both are about young characters that commit tragic acts of betrayal and later devote themselves to trying to make things right. But the settings of these tales are very different.
Atonement, a novel by Ian McEwan, is set in England in an upper class home between the great 20th century wars. Briony is a young girl who loves to write. She writes simple tales with pure heroes and heroines and unredeemable, wicked villains. But she soon comes of age, finding that the adult world is more morally ambiguous than she had ever imagined. She finds that ambiguity extends to her own life as she makes a mistake in judgment that ruins the life of her neighbor, and even worse, the life of her sister.
Briony searches for atonement for her actions (yep, there’s a reason for that title), but she comes to accept the secular values of 20th century Europe. The theories of Freud taught that guilt, an artificial construct that we can overcome by understanding, should have no power over the rational mind. But she cannot set her guilt aside so easily. Atheistic philosophies in vogue at the time of the story teach Briony that there is no God or afterlife, ultimately rendering any true restoration for the wrongs she commits impossible. But she continues to try to make atonement for past sins, even while knowing her attempts are futile and in a very unique sense, imaginary.
The The Kite Runner (a novel by Khaled Hosseini) takes place in a very different culture, Afghanistan beginning just prior to the Russian invasion of that country in the late 1970’s. But it takes on themes remarkably similar to those found in Atonement. Amir is a boy born into privilege who shares a friendship with a family servant, Haasan (the kite runner of the title.) Like Briony, Amir commits an act of betrayal during his childhood that he seeks to atone for throughout his life.
Though Amir lives in a world with very different standards than those of Briony, the Muslim world as opposed to the world of secular Europe, the frustration of righting past wrongs is just as great. His is a world of works righteousness, and many wrongs can seemingly never be made right.
How different a life than the one God desires for us! He knows we can never atone ourselves for our acts of petty and major cruelty and betrayal. That is why He sent His Son Jesus in the world. We celebrate Christmas when our Savior came to make right the wrongs we could never fix on our own.
As Paul wrote in Romans chapter 3: “22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
Both novels vividly portray the human dilemma of dealing with our oh-so-human frailty and depravity. Fortunately, we can at Christmas celebrate God’s great gift that meets are great need.
I would like to write about one other film that I haven’t seen. I haven’t even read the book. But along with the releases of Atonement and The Kite Runner this month will come the release of The Golden Compass. It is based on the first novel in Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy. My wife Mindy began to read the books because she read they were a modern retelling of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
She enjoyed the fantasy of The Golden Compass (also released as Northern Lights), but as she continued to read the series she became agitated and annoyed by the books. She told me she was frustrated when the books turned out not to be a retelling of Milton’s classic Christian tale but a reaction against it, an anti-Christian polemic for children. As a character in the book, Mary Malone (a former nun) states, “The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.”
Pullman is an outspoken atheist and has been quite vocal in his criticisms of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series of books for children.
Mindy has a hard time quitting books once she has begun, but she quit the third book in the series, The Amber Spyglass, because she couldn’t stand the depiction of God and His Son as wicked tyrants.
According to press reports, writer/director Chris Weitz (best known for his American Pie teen sex comedies) has toned down the religious themes in The Golden Compass.
I’m not a big fan of boycotts, and I’m certainly not going to advocate one for this film or of the work of the people who made it. But I do think it is important that parents are aware of the contents of their children’s film and book options. Take advantage of any and all opportunities, even the release of major motion pictures, to discuss your faith with your children... because faith in Jesus is where true gold is found.
All three of these films are currently scheduled for a December 7th release. Probable ratings for these films: PG for The Golden Compass, PG-13 for The Kite Runner and R for Atonement.