WATERLOO — Although “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is a fantasy film filled with talking animals, a witch and a magical closet, the 2005 film is also full of religious symbolism and Christian references, according to Father James Fennessy.
“It’s a story about sin and redemption,” said Father Fennessy, parochial vicar for the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva.
This emphasis on Christian themes makes the movie an ideal jumping-off point for parents who’d like to start discussions about faith and morals with their children, Father Fennessy said during a March 30 discussion about the movie at St. Mary Parish in Waterloo. The event was geared towards parishioners of the Geneva-Seneca Falls-Waterloo planning group, which includes St. Mary’s, St. Patrick Parish in Waterloo and the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva, which is made up of St. Francis de Sales and St. Stephen parishes.
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is based on C.S. Lewis’ 1950 book of the same name, one of seven volumes in the Chronicles of Narnia series. The main characters in both the book and the film are four siblings — Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy — who evacuate war-torn London for the safety of the countryside during World War II. After stepping through a magic wardrobe, however, the children find themselves in Narnia, a land where it is always winter but never Christmas and where danger lurks in the form of the evil White Witch and her army of wolves.
As the movie opens, the four children and their mother run for shelter while warplanes bomb the city.Although this scene is brief, it lets viewers know the children are in danger, Father Fennessy said. As the children travel to the countryside by train, the train’s smoke changes from white to black and back to white again, showing that the children are on a journey of good versus evil, he said.
When Lucy accidentally stumbles into Narnia through the wardrobe while playing hide and seek, she meets Mr. Tumnus, a creature who is half man and half goat. The creature is just as startled to see Lucy as she is to see him, and his first words to Lucy are full of symbolism, Father Fennessy said.
“He calls her a daughter of Eve, so right off the bat you know this girl represents humankind,” he explained.
Viewers later learn that Lucy, Susan, and their brothers — referred to as sons of Adam — represent humankind. Upon his first trip to Narnia, Edmund meets the White Witch, who represents the devil, Father Fennessy said. The witch charms Edmund by giving him Turkish delight, a kind of sugary candy. The witch preys on Edmund’s selfish nature and also tells him she will make him royalty in Narnia if he will only deliver his siblings to her.
Not recognizing the witch for the evil character she is, Edmund agrees to betray his family and lead them to her. Later,, he realizes the witch’s capacity for evil, but by then it’s too late.
“Edmund is the one who sins. The devil entices him and he is trapped. The whole story talks about the battle between the witch and the good,” Father Fennessy said.
When Peter, Susan and Lucy realize their brother is with the White Witch, they set out to rescue him with the help of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who are indeed talking beavers. It is through the beavers that the children first learn of Aslan, a powerful lion ruler and Christ-like figure.
“They’re the ones who talk about a savior, someone who will defeat the witch. They’re the ones who tell (the children) about the prophecy of Aslan. They’re like the prophets of the Old Testament who said that Jesus is coming to save the world,” Father Fennessy said.
Although the children are willing to help, Aslan is the only one who can ultimately redeem Edmund, just as Jesus is the only one who can redeem sinners, he added. Aslan makes a deal with the witch and offers to give her his own life in exchange for Edmund’s. The witch excitedly agrees, and Edmund is freed while Aslan is tied to a great stone table. The witch and her followers jeer at and torment Aslan before the witch kills him.
Susan and Lucy, who witness Aslan’s death, cry over his lifeless body, but soon find out that he has risen from the dead and is more powerful than ever. He brings them to the witch’s castle, where he literally breathes new life into creatures the witch had turned into stone statues.
“He breathes upon them and they come back to life, which is reminiscent of how Jesus dies, descends into hell and the dead are raised,” Father Fennessy said.
The movie clearly explains the concepts of sin and redemption as well as death and resurrection, and it explains why Jesus had to die and how he saved humankind by doing so, Father Fennessy added. Parents can use the movie to help their children understand this concept as well as the themes of trust, faith, humility and repentance, and they can then engage in discussions about the roles these values have played in their own lives.
“The Chronicles of Narnia” is not the only film to include Christian imagery, however. Such symbolism and values can be found in a number of recent films, including “Shrek,” “Finding Nemo” and “The Matrix,” Father Fennessy said.
“If you see a movie that you think the kids really like … look at it a little bit deeper. Instead of watching the movie just to have fun, try and learn from it,” he suggested.
St. Francis parishioner Donna Cemoni said the discussion was an eye-opener for her. Although she’d seen the movie before the discussion, she had no idea it had so much symbolic value.
“I can see it now clearly,” said Cemoni, who attended the discussion with her 11-year-old son, Vincent.
Vincent also took Father Fennessy’s words to heart. After the discussion, he told his mother he thought similar Christian themes could be found in “Disney’s The Lion King,” which he’d recently seen performed in Rochester.