One of the longstanding complaints that people have made about the movies and other visual media is that they steal the imaginations of children who would be better off reading books. So it's kind of ironic, even amusing, when a film like Inkheart comes along and celebrates the power of literature, of sitting down and turning page after page. And while this particular film is, itself, based on a book (in this case, a best-selling German children's novel by Cornelia Funke), the story is perfectly suited to the cinematic medium, because it is all about fictitious characters who come to life, springing off the page and finding themselves living and moving in our own world.

How these characters come to life is something of a mystery. A narrator tells us that some people simply have the ability to bring fictitious characters to life by reading their stories out loud, and he says these people are called "silvertongues." But who calls them this? The main "silvertongue" we meet—and he discovers his power accidentally and in a somewhat tragic way before the main plot even begins—is Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser), a devoted dad who doesn't seem to be connected to any of the other "silvertongues" out there. And even when we do meet another man who has this power, there is no sense that they've formed, like, a guild or anything.

Brendan Fraser as Mo

Brendan Fraser as Mo

More significantly, we learn that, when a character is brought to life, he or she will tend to switch places with someone from the real world—so as the fictitious characters appear in our world, any real-life people who happen to be nearby could find themselves stranded in the work of fiction. And it's not just the copy of that book being read by the "silvertongue" that is affected: as the main story begins, Mo Folchart is eagerly visiting used-book stores to find a rare novel that contains someone he wants to liberate. So it would seem that, when fictitious characters and real people switch places, it affects every copy of the book in question.

The movie focuses on a fairly simple story about a book called Inkheart. Three years after the movie's prologue, but nine years before the main story begins—yes, it's a bit complicated at first—Mo was reading a book called Inkheart to his family when several characters, most of them villains, appeared out of nowhere in his house. Worse, Mo's wife Resa (Sienna Guillory) vanished into the book—which was promptly lost or destroyed in the ensuing chaos, thus forcing Mo to raise their daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) alone and to spend the next several years looking for another copy of that book.

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Eliza Hope Bennett as Meggie

Eliza Hope Bennett as Meggie

As he looks for the book, Mo is occasionally followed by Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), a fire juggler with magical powers who was also drawn out of the book but is now desperate to get back in, to be reunited with his wife (played in a brief flashback or two by Bettany's real-life wife Jennifer Connelly). Dustfinger is, basically, a good man, but he is desperate enough to go home that he will go behind Mo's back or make a deal with the villains if he has to. The problem is, the villains (led by a man named Capricorn, who is played by Andy Serkis with a glee that suggests this is the most fun he has had since playing Gollum) want to stay in our world. In fact, they want to bring an even worse kind of evil out of the book and into real life.

And so Mo, who simply wants to get his wife back, also has to deal with the fact that several people want to "use" him and his power. This leads to a series of captures, escapes, and sundry other activities involving Mo, his teenaged daughter Meggie and his prim-and-proper book-loving mother Elinor (Helen Mirren), who is swept away on this adventure quite against her will, and who is prone to rebuking the villains with such delightfully snooty expressions as "You barbaric piece of pulp fiction!" Along the way, Mo and his allies encounter flying monkeys, unicorns, and various other characters, animals and objects that have been lifted from Grimm's Fairy Tales, The Wizard of Oz and a few other stories that are now in the public domain, and can therefore be used by the filmmakers without fear of getting sued.

Helen Mirren as Elinor

Helen Mirren as Elinor

Mo also eventually enlists the help of Fenoglio (Jim Broadbent), the man who wrote Inkheart in the first place—and this leads to a few interesting moments between the author and his creations, especially Dustfinger, who doesn't want to know how his story will end if he returns to the point in the book that he left. Just as Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo featured a movie character who steps off the screen and asserts his independence, yet remains true to his "character," Dustfinger makes a point of claiming that his author has no control over him ("You're not my God," he tells Fenoglio at one point), yet when he does something wrong, he says his behavior is really his author's fault, and not his own ("Blame him, he wrote me that way").

The movie, directed by Iain Softley (K-PAX) from a script by David Lindsay-Abaire (Robots), doesn't develop these ideas as deeply or memorably as it could, but it gets points for raising them in the first place, and it's a pleasant-enough diversion as a whole. Compared to other recent Brendan Fraser fantasy outings (Journey to the Centre of the Earth, the third Mummy), this one's a little lower-key, but on its own modest terms, it's a reasonably engaging tribute to the power of imagination.

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Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Elinor says the books in her library "love anyone who opens them." Do you think that's true? Are all stories meant for everyone? Are some stories only meant for certain people? Why do you think books feel "alive" to people like Elinor?
  2. How does Dustfinger deal with the question of fate and free will? How would you deal with it? Do you want to know the end of your story? Do you think there is an end to your story, already, waiting for you in the future—or is the future, so to speak, an open book?
  3. At one point, Dustfinger blames his bad behavior on Fenoglio, the author who created him ("Blame him, he wrote me that way"). Later, Fenoglio begs the villains to change their ways ("You don't have to be selfish just because I wrote you like that! You're more than that!"). How does this square, or not square, with a Christian understanding of free will? Did God "make us" the way we are? Are we "more than that"? How do we account for sin? How can we become "more than" sinners?
  4. Is it significant that at least one of the "good guys" never returns to his story, or that he begins to take on characteristics of one of the other "good guys"? What does this part of the movie have to say about freedom and self-determination?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Inkheart is rated PG for fantasy adventure action, some scary moments (involving flying monkeys, tornados, a Balrog-like supernatural being known as "the Shadow," and so on) and brief language (a "damn" or two). Also, one of the fictitious characters who comes to life asserts his independence from his author in semi-theological terms ("You don't control my fate. … You're not my God.") yet blames his author for his occasional bad behavior ("Blame him, he wrote me that way.").

What other Christian critics are saying:
  1. Plugged In
  2. Crosswalk
  3. Catholic News Service
  4. Past the Popcorn

Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(4 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG (for fantasy adventure action, some scary moments and brief language)
Directed By
Iain Softley
Run Time
1 hour 46 minutes
Brendan Fraser, Andy Serkis, Eliza Bennett
Theatre Release
January 23, 2009 by New Line Cinema
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