Imagine my surprise at finding a theater packed with patrons awaiting the matinee showing of Richard Attenborough’s Shadowlands. Did these people know what they would see—a film with no violence, no naked flesh, no dirty jokes, and not even a swear word, a film whose main character prays, believes in heaven, and lectures on theology?
Some evangelicals will complain that the movie distorts Lewis’s life and waters down his Christian message. True, in some ways the producers settled for the Hollywood formula of a tearjerker love story played by name stars (Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins). But let’s not be too harsh: these stars speak substantive dialogue to each other—about spiritual matters, no less.
The plot line: a repressed, clubby Oxford don, accustomed to winning all arguments and dominating his private (masculine) world, finds that airtight world invaded by a brash Noo Yawker. Joy Davidman Gresham, sassy, divorced, Jewish, and a former Communist, represents everything Lewis is not. The encounter “humanizes” Lewis, bringing him first acute happiness and then acute despair. Gresham, it turns out, is dying of cancer.
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you,” wrote Lewis. As he sat at the bedside of the dying woman, now his wife, suddenly everything became a matter of life and death. Especially his faith.
“Drippings of grace”
I enjoyed Shadowlands immensely, and I hesitate to carp about a fine film that is spurring a renewed interest in C. S. Lewis’s writings. Yet readers may note that the film subtly misconstrues Lewis’s views of pleasure and pain.
Several times the film repeats a scene from a lecture. We humans are not put on earth to experience ...1
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