Monday, April 28, 2008

The Water Horse -- Accepting reality

With some hits (Amazing Grace, Charlotte's Web, and Chronicles of Narnia) and some misses (The Seeker, and most recently Mr. Magorium) Walden Media's newest movie, The Water Horse, is a near-hit. Set in the beautiful scenery of the wilds of Scotland during the second world war, this is the story of the Loch Ness monster and a boy, Angus (Alex Etel, previously in Millions). I expected it to be a fantasy of the caliber of Magorium and was fondly surprised that it was closer to the quality of Narnia.

We meet Angus as a young lad, lonely and fearful of water, exploring the Scottish shore-line. When he discovers a huge egg, he takes it home to the large castle where his mother Anne McMorrow (Emily Watson) is the housekeeper. He hides it in the workshop that used to belong to his father, who is off serving his country in the navy. Pretty soon, the egg hatches and a water horse, a legendary creature, emerges. A cross between ET and Yoda when it is born, Angus names him Crusoe.

Shortly a troop of British soldiers led by Captain Hamilton (David Morrissey), a pompous English gentleman, arrives to take up billet at the castle. They are to monitor the loch for German U-boats. And then a new handyman Lewis Mowbray (Ben Chaplin) arrives and things become complicated. The water horse is growing rapidly and can no longer remain in the workshop. Fortunately, Lewis befriends Angus and his sister and is let into the secret, helping hide Crusoe. The movie certainly benefits from the chemistry that Chaplin and Etel bring to their scenes together.

As Crusoe grows, so does our understanding of the family. Mrs McMorrow reveals that her husband has perished at sea, and Angus is in denial. He holds onto the hope that he will see his father again. She, in turn, in her grief has buried herself in her work, and is denying her two children the time they need with her. At one point, Lewis, in talking with these two kids, causes them to burst out laughing, and Mrs McMorrow hears this. "It's a long time since they laughed," she says, and he replies, "You might try spending a little more time with them." Grief can cause us to deny reality and can cause us to lose our relational centers.

As Lewis is a centering character, Hamilton is a decentering one. He believes Angus needs more discipline to straighten him out and give his aimless life more purpose. He sets about turning him into a young soldier, unsuccessfully however. Angus' purpose is to preserve his secret and to somehow protect Crusoe.

With Crusoe growing at an alarming rate, the only solution is to let him loose in the Loch, and that initiates a series of adventures and misadventures. The cgi representation of this legendary creature is reasonable at first, but when he takes Angus on a ride underwater credibilty is strained. How long can he hold on, and how long can he hold his breath? And how does he lose his fear of the water so rapidly? This is a little far-fetched.

When the British test their cannons, shooting shells into the Loch, Crusoe is scared and turns from a semi-tame, lovable creature into a scary monster. In this sense, "we" created the monster. From almost a family member ("You're my best friend, Crusoe") to a monster, we caused the transformation. And this transformation causes us to ask what other monsters have we personally created, in our own homes, in our own families? What verbal shells have we shot at friends and families causing them to become angry and turn, red-eyed, into fearsome terrors?

In the end, this movie is a journey of acceptance. As Lewis is the human glue that brings the family together, so Crusoe is the magical spirit that causes them to face their demons. Angus, in denial of his father's death, can accept the "unreality" of a mystical creature while his mother is the exact opposite. She cannot accept a monster in the lake, but the death of her husband is plain. When she comes face-to-face with the monster, she accepts reality. And, somehow this whole experience has brought the death of his father into a reality that Angus now accepts.

The main issue of The Water Horse is that of accepting reality, and that there is something deeper, more magical. Some of us look at the "real" world and accept this, but do not accept the spiritual world that we cannot see. There are "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph 6:12). There is a God in heaven, there are angels, and "some people have entertained angels without knowing it" (Heb 13:2). There is a spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, bursting through this present reality. Are our eyes open, like Angus, to see such unexpected things? Or are we, like Mrs McMorrow, working to avoid, even deny, this reality?

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

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