A Catholic critic might lose his job over 'The Golden Compass'

Goldenbear_lThe Golden Compass may have pleased neither general audiences nor fans of the Philip Pullman book nor the bean-counters at New Line — but the only person who may lose his job because of the movie is a critic who gave it a positive review. That would be Harry Forbes, who reviews movies for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and whose review found the movie an exciting children’s fantasy from which most of the anti-clerical content had been excised. "Is Pullman trying to undermine anyone’s belief in God? Leaving thebooks aside and focusing on what has ended up on screen, the script canreasonably be interpreted in the broadest sense as an appeal againstthe abuse of political power," the review read. This at a time when the Catholic League and other Christian protesters were warning that the movie would inspire kids to read Pullman’s His Dark Materials books and turn them into atheists. Forbes’ bosses responded by pulling the review from circulation, and now some Catholic leaders are calling for Forbes’ firing, noting that he also gave positive reviews to Brokeback Mountain and Rent, in which he cited those films’ artistic achievements while acknowledging that their gay content would likely offend many Catholic viewers.

Whether or not you agree with Forbes’ taste, you have to give him credit for understanding the nature of movies in a way that his detractors do not. Movies are not fortune cookies, easily cracked open to reveal a pithy and explicit message. They’re more like dreams, full of ideas and images that may contradict each other and that are subject to multiple interpretations. The best movies raise questions but don’t necessarily offer answers; they make you think but do not tell you what to think. They spark your imagination.

And one kind of imagination is empathy, the ability to recognize thehumanity in someone who is not like you, whose circumstances may differgreatly from your own. That requires an imaginative leap, one Forbesseems to have been willing to make in his reviews. He seems torecognize that it’s possible to enjoy a movie on a narrative oremotional level even if it has ideological elements you disagree with.(By the same token, it’s possible for non-Christians to enjoypro-Christian allegories like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Matrix, or E.T.on a storytelling level, as well-wrought adventure tales, withoutfeeling proselytized or even noticing their Christian content.)

The bishops are free, of course, to fire Forbes or keep him on, andthey are free to decide that, in movie reviews, doctrinal correctnessis more important than aesthetics. But that seems to me to be acrabbed, blinkered, joyless way to watch movies.

What say you, PopWatchers? Should Forbes keep his job, or should thebishops fire him? Are you able to empathize with movie characters orsituations that may offend you? Are you able to enjoy movies even ifyou disagree with some of what they have to say?

Comments (50 total) Add your comment
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  • JoeC

    As a Christian, I find the idea that Forbes would be fired disturbing, to say the least. He has a right to his opinion; his readers are free to disagree with him.
    As for your question, Gary, I have said this before; it’s a MOVIE! It’s not real life; it’s only entertainment. Certainly I watch movies that extoll viewpoints I don’t share; so what? Again, only a movie.

  • GingerCat

    They didn’t fire all those priests who abused children, but now some Catholic leaders want to fire this guy for having opinions? Sounds about right for Catholicism. And I say this as someone who was raised Catholic and considered herself one for many years.
    As for the other questions, yes, I can empathize with characters that offend me and enjoy movies I disagree with–sometimes. It’s called having an open mind. I think if you’re going to watch or read creative works, you have to approach them with an open mind. Otherwise, what’s the point?

  • Craig

    Everyone is of course entitled to their opinion, but this guy represents the Catholic Bishops. That is his job. I can understand that they might want someone out in front of them that actually shared their convictions. It would be like a conservative candidate hiring a liberal press secretary, and that press secretary continuing to emphasize their own personal politcal stances. It would be foolish to allow someone to continue to misrepresent your organization.

  • Nick

    The problem with Forbes is that Forbes speaks for only one person–Harry Forbes. And yet because of the post, it appears that the United States Bishops (and the teachings of the Catholic Church) are in complete agreement with his opinions. Which really can’t be done, because doctrinal specificity does not mesh with stories that lend credibility to contrarian stances. The solution, best for Forbes, best for the US Bishops, is to fire Forbes and to dissolve the movie review board, and leave Forbes to be a free agent. That way, he is free to share his opinions without the weight of doctrinal exactitude. I, for one, respect his contrarian opinion on this film, even as I disagree with him.

  • donner

    the power of the church (any denomination, pick one) in this country is truly frightening…i have nothing against religion at all, but they need to take a pill and relax…seriously…

  • sje

    Yet another reason I’m glad I left the Catholic church. It’s utterly ridiculous to insist that a critic must share every single prejudicial, absurd viewpoint of his or her bosses. And it’s sad that the Catholic church can’t embrace discussion on topics they disagree with, or look beyond controversy to see the other messages. Watching a movie won’t make kids atheists, but a tenacious hold on dogma at the expense of THOUGHT probably will.

  • Nick

    sje, you are a m-o-r-o-n. Upset? How dare you be upset over a contrarian view as to how b-o-n-e-h-e-a-d-e-d you are! I’m so glad we’re not related (or if we are, that I have left your family)! ;) (All kidding aside, this sort of name-calling, which Pullman instigated, is precisely the issue here, not the doctrinal oppression–people are free to believe what they want–but don’t associate yourself with an organization if you don’t believe it).

  • Ames

    it’s like the Catholic church is bound and determined to turn off as many people as possible. Just barely recover from a scandal where the OK governor likened you to the cosa nostra? Well, why change? Gang up on someone whose job it is to view films and report what he actually saw (versus rhetoric from people who never saw the movie) for doing his job. It makes total sense.

  • Ceballos

    Not to jump on the “let’s bash the Catholic church” bandwagon, but if they fire Forbes for expressing his opinion (and his alone) which displayed, as Gary pointed out, a willingness to step outside of what he believes in to review a movie in its own merit, well then they’re behaving, just as bad, if not worse, in the real world as they fear they’re being depicted in the movie. (Or NOT depicted in the sanitized movie version).
    It’d be a shame if this guy lost his job because it sounds like they could use a few more like him.
    Anyway, Popwatchers, enjoy the rest of the week. I’m off to NYC for a few days of vacation! Yay!

  • Poinky

    I was sent the mass e-mail warning me against letting my children see this movie due to it being anti-Christian. I decided to read the books myself and decide what I thought about it. I have just finished book #2 and heck, some of the stuff is over MY head. So even if my kids wanted to see this movie, I don’t think I have to worry about them taking up an atheistic mantle from it.

  • FSM

    Don’t let your children READ!!! They might be encouraged to think for themselves! And whatever you do, don’t admit you like movies with homoz!!!! You might git fired!!!! WTF IS HAPPENING IN THIS COUNTRY?

  • Poinky

    In fact, I’m a lot more bothered by the fact that my kids run around constantly saying “boom-chicka-wow-wow” from the Alvin and Chipmunks movie previews. Just don’t say it in front of great-grandma, please????

  • WTH

    Along the lines of what is this world coming to – Perky little Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant…and she is supposed to be the “role model” Spears…

  • Mike

    Calling for his firing is absurd. It’s disheartening, because I’ve actually empathized with the Catholics somewhat on this – they have every right to be offended by a book series which very openly tries to subvert their faith. But of course the idiots have to go ruin everything. Here they seem to misunderstand what critics DO – judge the film based on its merits. How good a film is doesn’t necessarily have to do with an agenda it may or may not be pushing. Example: I disagree with the play ‘Night Mother – which basically supports its main character’s desire to commit suicide – but I think it’s a brilliant play. I really don’t understand how some of these people can even call themselves Christians.

  • Lene

    If the bishops fire him, they will be acting just like The Magisterium.

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