More Hollywood Hate
"Catholic" Actress to Star in Anti-Catholic Fantasy Trilogy

Mark Alessio

Nicole Kidman

According to the Sydney Morning Herald (Aug. 19, 2007), “Oscar winner Nicole Kidman has spoken of her Catholic faith as her new film threatens to become embroiled in religious controversy”:

Kidman, who is filming Australia in the outback with Baz Luhrmann, has told a US magazine her Catholic faith affected her consideration of the script for another project, The Golden Compass.

The screenplay for the fantasy film, based on the book (first published as Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman, is already attracting attention in the US for avoiding much of the book's perceived anti-Catholic rhetoric.

Kidman said some of the religious elements were removed from the movie script. "It has been watered down a little," she told Entertainment Weekly.

"I was raised Catholic, the Catholic Church is part of my essence," Kidman said. "I wouldn't be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic."

The Golden Compass, scheduled for a December 7th American release, will be the first film in a trilogy based on Pullman’s His Dark Materials fantasy novels, which feature an organization known as “The Magisterium,” which kidnaps children (via the “Church's General Oblation Board”) and removes their souls. All three volumes of the trilogy – The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass – are published by the prestigious Alfred A. Knopf publishing house.

According to World Net Daily arts columnist, Cynthia Grenier (reporting for Catholic – April 5, 2007), among other honors, volumes of this trilogy have garnered the “American Library Association Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults,” “Publisher's Weekly Best Book of the Year” and “Britain's Carnegie Medal and Guardian Prize for Fiction. A “Book-of-the-Month-Club” main selection, the books have been praised in The New York Times, The Detroit Free Press, Kirkus Reviews, U.S. News & World Report, the School Library Journal and the July 1, 2001 issue of the Washington Post Book World, in which critic Michael Dirda referred to the trilogy as "the Anti-Narnia, a critique of organized religion, a paean to Blakean joy in life, and, for all its controversy, the most vividly imagined 'secondary world' in 20th century children's literature."

According to the Sydney Morning Herald report, the release of The Golden Compass is arousing concern among some parental organizations:

“Clergymen who kidnap children. Witches who aren't wicked. Even a pair of sexually ambiguous angels. If you thought Harry Potter was blasphemous, wait till you get a look at [this] trilogy," wrote one film critic last week.

Comment: In a November, 2002 interview sponsored by Christian Aid UK, Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, said:

When you look at organized religion of whatever sort – whether it's Christianity in all its variants, or whether it's Islam or some forms of extreme Hinduism – wherever you see organized religion and priesthoods and power, you see cruelty and tyranny and repression. It's almost a universal law .... 'Magisterium' and 'oblation' are church terms, they are terms of church organization. These are administrative things. These are bureaucratic things. How can an attack on those be construed as an attack on God? These are human things which human beings have constructed in order to wield power.

Indeed, one of his characters, an ex-nun named Mary Malone, states, “I used to be a nun you see. I thought physics could be done to the glory of God, till I saw there wasn't any God at all and that physics was more interesting anyway. The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all." Let the kids chew on that. Another character, the witch Serafina Pekkala, quoting an angel, says:

All the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity. The rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds; the Authority and his churches have always tried to keep them closed.

According to a gushing review in Publisher's Weekly, “Early on, this ‘Authority’ is explicitly identified as the Judeo-Christian God, and he is far from omnipotent....the cosmic battle to overthrow the Kingdom is only one of the many epic sequences in this novel.” In His Dark Materials, kiddies are treated to the death of the “Authority” – i.e., the death of God:

Between them they helped the ancient of days out of his crystal cell; it wasn't hard, for he was as light as paper, and he would have followed them anywhere, having no will of his own, and responding to simple kindness like a flower to the sun. But in the open air there was nothing to stop the wind from damaging him, and to their dismay his form began to loosen and dissolve. Only a few moments he had vanished completely, and their last impression was of those eyes, blinking in wonder, and a sigh of the most profound and exhausted relief. Then he was gone: a mystery dissolving in mystery.

In the interview cited above, Philip Pullman spoke about the phrase, “The Kingdom of Heaven”:

But if the Kingdom is dead, we still need those things [a sense of being connected to the universe]. We can't live without those things because it's too bleak, it's too bare and we don't need to. We can find a way of creating them for ourselves if we think in terms of a Republic of  Heaven.

This is not a Kingdom but a Republic, in which we are all free and equal citizens, with – and this is the important thing – responsibilities. With the responsibility to make this place into a Republic of Heaven for everyone. Not to live in it in a state of perpetual self-indulgence, but to work hard to make this place as good as we possibly can.

That’s supposed to make it all right, of course, and display Pullman’s moral superiority over “organized religion and priesthoods.” I can’t help wondering, though, who got his hands dirtier making the world a better place – Philip Pullman or Fr. Damian of Molokai. It is so easy to talk, isn’t it, Phil?

The idea that a whitewashed version of Pullman’s work can make it acceptable to Catholics is the height of absurdity. Suppose that someone wrote a trilogy in which the Jewish religion was the object of the deepest contempt. Suppose that, in these stories, an evil outfit called “The Halakha” (i.e., the collective corpus of Jewish rabbinic law, custom and tradition) was brainwashing children, as evil rabbis ran rampant and ex-Jews waxed poetic in their rejection of a not-so-thinly-disguised version of Judaism. Then, a filmmaker comes along and says, “I’ll film these books, but I’ll remove some of the offensive elements.” Commentators would rightfully say, “Don’t bother. Why should we pour money into the coffers of someone who despises us, as well as those who consider us stupid enough to sell our souls for a sanitized version of something based  upon nothing but contempt for us in the first place?”

Nicole Kidman is either deluded or disingenuous. Perhaps she smells “franchise” and the possibility that Pullman’s book/film trilogy will become another Harry Potteresque golden-egg laying goose. But, then, the “Catholic” actress also starred in the 2001 horror-film, The Others, as a character who engages in Catholic prayers and rituals throughout the film, only to find in the end that her Catholic faith was absolutely meaningless. Is a plum role in a fantasy franchise really worth it?