Our desire for adventure and the opportunity to become our best selves in a fantasy is often preferable to the safe but boring reality in which we often find ourselves. “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is a fantastic adventure and one of the favorites in the C.S. Lewis series for children “The Chronicles of Narnia”. The reason is simple: it is a magical journey which takes us beyond the dawn while battling evil in all its tempting and bewitching forms. In other words, it is an analogy of the journey of life. Although not a slave to the book, this third film is true to both the message and the context of the tale. Directed for the first time by Michael Apted instead of Andrew Adamson, and produced by 20th Century Fox instead of Disney, it could be argued that this is the best in the film series so far.
We pick up the story with the two younger Penvensie children, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) who have been separated from their older siblings because of WWII. Living with their cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter), the two children feel captive in both his home and the real world. Longing to return to Narnia, they are ridiculed by Eustace whose belief in the intellect has stifled the development of his imagination. But as is often true not only in fiction but also in life, his imagination is taken captive by fantasy as a picture on his wall of a boat sailing the seas becomes real and engulfs them in its waves. It is, of course, another portal into Narnia.
Although Caspian (Ben Barnes), no longer the prince but the ruler of the realm, has brought peace to Narnia, there is an area of the Lone Islands where six noble Lords had gone in search of an evil that is enslaving humanity. These lords possess the swords given to them by Aslan, the Lion who is the sacrificed and resurrected Savior of the realm. There is a seventh sword that belonged to Caspian’s father but has been lost. It is in search of these noblemen and their swords that have taken Caspian and his ship, the Dawn Treader, into uncharted waters.
We won’t spoil the adventure they have as they seek to find the noblemen, rescue the enslaved and fight the evil whose mist tempts humans with treasure, pleasure and power, but there are several messages that need to be mentioned. The first is that courage comes in all sizes, as the little mouse, Reepicheep (voice by Simon Pegg) dramatically illustrates. Another is that love compels us to face danger, but it is our longing for adventure that thrusts us into the unknown.
The most important lesson of the film is one that is not as dramatically presented in the film as it is in the book. It is when Eustace is freed from his dragon soul that has become a reality in Narnia. Having found a dragon’s treasure and attempted to steal it, Eustace is turned into the beast. His dragon’s breath of fire and wings of flight become vehicles useful to the journey, but it is when he meets Aslan that he is transformed by Aslan’s claws that cut deep into his scales and free him from his dragon form. In the book, the claws of Aslan carve deep into the dragon skin, but in the film, Aslan paws the sand in a symbolic act of slicing through the spell that Eustace’s greed had caused. Though both set him free, the film’s version is less dramatic and less direct.
The end of the film finds the Dawn Treader’s crew at the end of the world and the beginning of Aslan’s land. It is a land they will enter eventually but in a far more final and dramatic way than can be experienced before it is their time.
That we are all on a voyage to the dawn beyond dawns is an analogy to the truth Lewis expressed in this book of the journey of life. That there are battles, both inward and outward, that must be waged on this journey is also true. That we are not alone but have courageous warriors at our side is also true and reminds us that we need one another if we are to make it to the land beyond the dawn as well.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. When Eustace trusts only in what can be known by the mind, he shuts himself off both to love and to adventure. How do you deal with the seeming conflict between mind and soul, science and fiction?
2. The transformation of Eustace is a central part of the story. He was tempted by treasure. Edmund and Caspian were tempted by power. Lucy was tempted by her envy of her sister Susan’s beauty. Temptation comes to us in a form for which we are most vulnerable. How are you tempted and how do you keep from coming under its spell?
3. The courageous crew of the Dawn Treader sails into unknown seas. Have you entered the unknown courageously with people you trust by your side? What happened when you did so?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.