Some might find it odd that Greta Gerwig, known for her roles in low-budget mumblecore films, will be directing Netflix’s adaptation of CS Lewis’s Narnia stories. However, it’s hard to argue with this decision upon first glance. Gerwig made a name for herself as an actor before transitioning into independent cinema with her film Lady Bird. She gained even more recognition with her latest movie Barbie, a clever and subtly subversive comedy fantasy that was a huge box office success and stirred up controversy due to its conservative themes. Despite being based on a child’s plastic toy, Barbie will likely be remembered as the most timely and relevant cinematic event of 2023.
What plans does Gerwig have for Aslan, Eustace Grubb, and Mr Tumnus the faun? Gerwig has been chosen to create at least two films based on Lewis’s seven-book series for Netflix. According to Netflix’s chairman Scott Stuber, the films may have a more traditional feel than expected because of Gerwig’s Christian upbringing. Stuber explained that the CS Lewis books are heavily influenced by Christianity and that they jumped at the opportunity to license the books, as well as other recognizable stories like Roald Dahl’s, to tell them. He also mentioned that Gerwig is currently developing the overall storyline for the films, with a strong focus on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
It is not surprising that Gerwig may focus on traditional religious symbolism in her work, given her previous movie’s unconventional and playful approach. However, it is not expected and somewhat unpredictable. As someone who read the books as a child without any religious background, I recall the lengthy sections in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where the four Pevensie children anticipate the arrival of Aslan (who can be seen as a representation of Jesus). When he finally appears, he is not as impressive as expected.
Lewis appears to have made the same mistake as Milton did in his writing of Paradise Lost, where he portrays Satan as the epic hero. The alluring White Witch, with her never-ending supply of Turkish delight and stylish winter clothing, is a much more captivating central character. In Lewis’s final book, The Last Battle, the heavy-handed allegory for Christianity’s Judgment Day and the second coming of Christ is even more disheartening. However, some of the other stories, like Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Horse and His Boy, where Lewis indulges in his love for pure fantasy, are much more enjoyable.
The three Narnia movies created in the 2000s, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 2005, Prince Caspian in 2008, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 2010, were very ordinary despite the great acting by Tilda Swinton as the White Witch. The thought of Gerwig bringing a sharper interpretation to Narnia is exciting, especially considering how cautious previous directors have been.
However, Gerwig is not limited to just one talent, and we should not anticipate that Barbie will serve as a blueprint for her future endeavors. Her remarkable interpretation of Little Women stayed faithful to Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel while also feeling refreshingly modern and authentic compared to previous adaptations. It’s unlikely that Ryan Gosling will play the role of Mr. Tumnus, and there probably won’t be any scenes where the bearded goat-man scolds Aslan for converting young children to Christianity through not-so-subtle religious symbolism and the irresistible charm of a giant lion. Although, it would be nice if he did.