November 22 is doubly meaningful for American fans of C.S. Lewis, whose death on that day was, and still is, overshadowed by the murder of President John F. Kennedy. To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the death of Lewis we reach back several years into Visual Parables’ archives for reviews of several films, feature-length and shorter. Although President Kennedy’s far too brief life impacted us deeply, it is not unfair to say that, because of his still relevant books read by children and adults, the English author has had an even greater influence on people of faith.
Rated PG. Running time: 2 hours 11 min.
Our advisories (0 –10): Violence 0; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.
Star Rating (1-5): 4
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
The Problem of Pain, Ch. 6.
C.S. Lewis fans are in debt to director Richard Attenborough for bringing us this fine adaptation of William Nicholson’s BBC teleplay. When Lewis wrote The Problem of Pain in 1940, the pain from his mother’s death was far in the past, so his book was more
of a theological exercise than a personal testimony. In this film we see how the celebrated Oxford don, whom others regarded as always having the answers, faces love and then the problem of pain in his own life.
C.S. Lewis ‘s belief that our present world is but a shadow land of a glorious existence to come was sorely tested by the pain and grief he suffered during the illness and death of his wife Joy. Attenborough’s film captures the anguish of a man, once certain about faith and life, driven to his knees where none of his great learning and erudition could help him, only the core of his wavering faith that despite everything, God was present and his late-in-life love for Joy was worth the pain.
Anthony Hopkins deserves all the praise he has received for his portrayal of a man who has played it safe until he meets a woman who challenges his cocksureness and staid lifestyle. But Debra Winger is equally good as a woman very much ahead of her time, possessed with a keen intellect and searching heart and mind. I wish that the film could have shown more of Joy’s impact on Lewis — her drawing him out of writer’s block, her editing his and Warnie’s manuscripts, her contributions to his Reflections on the Psalms and the last of the Narnia books, plus her work on her own book on the Ten Commandments — because this would have shown that she was anything but a suffering victim, that despite everything against her, she and her husband and their unorthodox marriage was richly blessed by God.
This is a good film that could launch a group of adults into a discussion of pain and illness, suffering and death, Christian hope and heaven, especially if one or more of the group reads Lewis’s journal which he kept during and after Joy’s illness
MORE C.S. LEWIS MATERIALS
Churches and families should take advantage of the interest in C.S. and Joy Davidman Lewis generated by Richard Attenborough’s movie to set up a series of studies or family nights on the works of C.S. Lewis. Have copies of the Narnia, his science fiction and theology books on hand. There is also an excellent biography of Helen Joy Davidman, published in 1991 by Crossway Books, entitled AND GOD CAME IN: An Extraordinary Love Story by Lyle W. Dorsett. The following videos could be shown at church or loaned out along with the books.
SHADOWLANDS: C.S. LEWIS (90 & 73 minute versions)
Watch the original version of William Nicholson’s play as it appeared on the BBC. Starring Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom, in many ways it is more satisfying than the film, in as much as we learn more of Joy’s literary background and exchange of correspondence with Lewis. Unlike the film, this version includes both of Joy’s sons, not just Douglas. Joss Ackland looks more like C.S. Lewis and is equally as good as the more famous Anthony Hopkins. A beautifully photographed and acted story of late love and faith tested by suffering.
Available for $12.99 from Vision Video, P.O. Box 540, Worcester PA 19490-0540. Tel: 1-800-523-0226. (This is available as a
combination offer at $24.99 with a delightful film about Screwtape called Affectionately Yours: The Devil and C.S. Lewis.
THROUGH JOY AND BEYOND (60 minutes)
Fr. Walter Hooper, who served as Lewis’s secretary during his last years, takes us on a biographical journey to the various sites important in Lewis’s development. Filled with generous does of quotations from Surprised by Joy, as well as from the Narnia series and various theological works (read by Peter Ustinov!), the viewer receives a comprehensive overview of the famous author’s life and thought. To see the halls of Oxford, the house where he and brother Warnie, and later Joy, lived together, as well as the many other sites in his past is a real treat and will provide additional food for thought and discussion — and best of all, it might lead the viewers to read Dr. Lewis’s books.
Once widely available on VHS tape, its DVD version costs over $150 on Amazon, so you might find it in the collection of your public library.
THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (165 minutes) PRINCE CASPIAN AND THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER (165 minutes) THE SILVER CHAIR (165 minutes)
Again we are indebted to the BBC for these wonderful live actor adaptations of four of the seven Narnia books. The fine actors faithfully interpret the allegories that have won the hearts of so many readers, young and old. I still would prefer that parents first read the books to their children to allow them to see the characters and action in their own minds and then use the video versions. Some of the best memories my children and I share are the many hours before bedtime when we read together the Narnia series — not as religious works but just as good adventure tales. It was a joy when our young daughter observed, following the voluntary death of Aslan the Lion, “Why, Dad, Aslan is like Christ!” Like the novels, adults still in touch with “the child within” can enjoy them almost as much as children.
Available today on DVD (all of the above on one disk) from Amazon.com:
Animated Narnia Film
There is an excellent animated version of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, 95 minutes long, produced by The Children’s Television Workshop and the Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation in 1985. When I lead family retreats on film and theology I often recommend that this be shown to the children while the adults discuss the various themes raised in my presentations. It also is available from Amazon.com.
A Grief Observed
An adult film in the best sense of the phrase, this is that rare film that explores love and faith in an intelligent, inspirational way. Unfortunately, the film apparently has gone out of print since I saw it on VHS many years ago. I mention it in case you come across it in a library collection that hasn’t discarded all of their VHS tapes.
Affectionately Yours: The Devil and C.S. Lewis
For you who subscribe to VP check the Summer 2007 issue for a long review of the delightful DVD exploring his book The Screwtape Letters¸ Affectionately Yours: The Devil and C.S. Lewis which “does a wonderful job of showing how this Oxford scholar, so familiar with Dante and Milton’s works featuring the devil, was able to offer his own understanding of Satan and temptation in such an entertaining way that “everyman” could grasp his meaning–and, as one scholar points out, footnotes are not needed, as they are when reading the older writers.
A Good Book
There is also the excellent book mentioned above And God Came In: Joy Davidman Her Life & Marriage to C.S. Lewis by Lyle W. Dorsett (Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL, 1991). Learn what an accomplished writer Joy Davidman was and how much she influenced Lewis in several of his books, including one of the Narnia books and his study of The Psalms. Her own search for meaning led her from her Jewish background into atheism, Communism, and finally to Christianity. A fascinating read about a fascinating Christian.
Last of all, be sure to check You Tube, as there are lots of postings under C.S. Lewis.