On the Film Adaptation of Pullman’s The Golden Compass

Over at Crooked Timber, Maria Farrell on the movie:

In the tortured process of creating the film – Tom Stoppard’s treatment dropped in favour of Chris Weitz’s unsolicited one, Wetitz being fired, another director coming on and being fired, Weitz’ return, New Line’s insistence on dropping the voice actor for Iorek Byrnison in favour of a marquis name in fantasy film, Ian McKellen – the one continuous theme is the rationalization by the creatives of studio power. Weitz says he “grew” a lot between being the first and third director of the film. Presumably the creative differences just stopped bothering him. And public atheist Pullman says he isn’t perturbed at all by the complete excision of theocratic corruption in the film because all forms of totalitarianism are the same.

Except they’re not. Life in a theocracy means everyone – not just members of the Communist party or the military junta – must live out the philosophy of the rulers every day of their lives. There is a peculiarity to a complete absence of the separation of church and state that doesn’t prevail in a communist or a fascist state. When there is no distinction between religious and secular power, it’s not enough to obey the rules, you have to believe in them, too. Theocracies are obsessed with sexuality in a way that common or garden totalitarianism is not. Women get a spectacularly raw deal in a theocratic state, which is what makes Mrs. Coulter such a notable character; she plays the religious hierarchy at their own game and wins, albeit at a terrible cost.

Cutting out the special viciousness of theocratic totalitarianism from His Dark Materials is its own form of intercision, the books’ term for an operation that separates children from their daemons and cleanses them of original sin.