Sunday, September 25, 2016

'Pilgrim's Progress' (1978) and 'Christiana' (1979)

Ken Anderson made two interesting film versions of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream (1678), parts one and two.  He streamlines and slightly alters the story lines and projects the "enemy of your soul" as a semi-comical but still-menacing Devil, aided by three imps in Christiana -- in the simple style of a Medieval morality play. 

Pilgrim's Progress has the whimsical production values of an episode of Captain Kangaroo, with significant improvements however in Christiana

What others might find laughable in technical shortcomings, I find endearing. 

Both movies were filmed in Northern Ireland. Liam Neeson's in his first big celluloid roles is fabulous, providing a calm, assuring presence while mellifluously delivering his lines.

Anderson adopts the use of one actor to play several characters -- the Devil in many guises, and the Good impulse in different people. 

Mr. Great-heart (Neeson) is akin to a bodhisattva (in Buddhism) -- he stays in the world to help people become more enlightened and reach their final goal on pilgrimage.  

Neeson also plays The Evangelist, Help, Mr. Good Will, Mr. Interpreter, Faithful, and even, as in a vision, Jesus Christ crucified. 

I also like Jenny Cunningham as Christiana -- a calm, sympathetic portrayal. Anderson uses her friend Mercy as a representative of the more typical person as she wobbles back and forth between good (moving toward self-actualization) impulses and bad ones (self-sabotage).
The use of one actor to play different characters is sometimes used as a device in soap operas and movies (including The Wizard of Oz), but in these two films Anderson goes full tilt, as if to say that many people are of the same archetype or disposition, avatars of forces "in the world but not of the world."  

What think ye of this strange device? 

Overall, these film "visualizations" are wonderful jaunts that can be seen through several filters ranging from psychology, theology, philosophy, folk tale and mythology. However, beware the creepy use of repetitive voiceover whisperings from time to time.  

Finally, to compare again with The Wizard of Oz, there is a difference in outlook.

Wizard of Oz: there's no place like home.
Pilgrim's Progress: there's no place like heaven.
Wizard of Oz: trek from tornadic whirlwind to the Emerald City.
Pilgrim's Progress: pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. 

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy awakens to herself as if from a dream, at home, with better self-understanding. 

In Christiana, Christiana says good-bye to friends and family and crosses the River of Death to reach the Celestial City, never to return.  

Today's Rune: The Warrior. 


jodi said...

Erik-I always fall into any Liam vehicle. And the warrior rune? Warrior just happens to be my personal mantra!

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't remember hearing of these films but it came at a time when I was somewhat 'anti-film.' I've never been much of a TV/Movie fan but I went through a pretty long period where I actively despised the whole form. I have come around to appreciating it more in the last couple of years, perhaps because of seeing some really good TV with Lana, such as Breaking Bad.