Theme: The Journey Home
Studio Canal’s and Heyday Films’ new release Paddington brings the beloved children’s tale to the big screen. The story of a lost little bear from darkest Peru has captured children’s hearts ever since its first appearance in 1958. Now, with this beautiful film adaptation a magical new Paddington is enthralling the hearts and imaginations of old and young alike.
It would be a grievous mistake to dismiss this film as simply a “children’s movie” or “family entertainment”. Of course Paddington is for children and families and it is very entertaining, but the story also embodies profound truth: beauty and creation, death and loss, journey and home, sacrifice and love, justice and restoration. These themes touch every human heart for they are the original story and deepest longing of every human heart.
Beauty, Fall, Restoration
Paddington follows the Biblical pattern of Beauty, Fall, and Restoration. The movie opens in the past with an old black and white film clip telling the story of an English explorer visiting darkest Peru and entering into a familial relationship with talking bears. He names both bears and gives them marmalade; a food which has all the vitamins a bear will ever need. There is beauty, peace and fellowship on the first “Marmalade Day”.
The present arrives in full color as the story shifts to another Marmalade Day and a young bear telling his Aunt and Uncle the fruit is ripe and ready to be picked. This Marmalade Day ends in tragedy as an earthquake shatters the peace, flattens the forest, and claims the life of the male bear “Uncle Pastuzo”. The female bear, “Aunt Lucy”, takes the young bear to a ship and gives him instructions for finding a new home. She tells him of the Explorer’s country and how they too suffered loss and separation through a war. She is sure they won’t have forgotten how to treat a stranger. With his Uncle’s hat and rations of marmalade the little bear sets out on a journey to find a new life, a new home, and a new family.
Paddington’s journey follows the classic “Hero’s Journey”.1 He leaves his ordinary world, darkest Peru, crosses a threshold, and enters a special world. The journey of the little bear is filled with tests and trials. The Brown family and Mr. Gruber become allies to help him on his quest. The Hero’s Journey is always a descent into an inner most cave where the hero comes face to face with death; for Paddington it is the Cathedral of Knowledge and Millicent the taxidermist. After the ordeal, the road back is not always easy; Paddington has to climb out of a fiery furnace. Resurrection comes with the loving hands of the Brown family and Uncle Pastuzo’s marmalade sandwich kept for emergencies.
Marmalade Day frames the movie. On the first Marmalade Day there was beauty and a new fellowship of three. On the second Marmalade Day a family was shattered and death entered the story. The third Marmalade Day is a day of Restoration and New Creation. Paddington’s old world tree top home has been restored with a new kind of tree top home in Windsor Gardens. The family that was lost has been restored with a new kind of family, one which has named him, clothed him and made him one of their own.
Marmalade Day also means restoration for the Brown family; their journey with Paddington has brought transformation to their lives as well. The movie concludes with an “all things made new” theme: the tree blossoms, justice is served to the agent of death, love for one another is restored in a divided family and a lost little bear finds his new home.
The Cathedral of Knowledge vs. The Petting Zoo
At the heart of Paddington’s story is another story, one of a father, Montgomery Clyde the explorer and his daughter, Millicent the taxidermist. Their story is not a trivial insignificant subplot; it has deep rich theological truth embedded in it.
The renowned philosopher Dallas Willard writes of humankind’s original vocation:
“Humans are made to govern—to rule over the zoological realm as God rules over all things. The imago Dei, the likeness to God, consists, accordingly, of all those powers and activities required for filling this job description, this rule to which we are appointed. And of course it includes the very rule itself.
But surely this has no bearing on our lives today! Wasn’t this just a job description for the first man, Adam? No, it was not. The word “man”, or “Adam”, is a collective noun, and may be taken as referring both to the individual, Adam and to humankind, the community of “governors” over all life higher than the plants. And to accomplish this task, humans were given the abilities appropriate to the task: powers of perception, conceptualization, valuation, and action. That curious scene in Genesis 2:19-20, for instance, where the animals were brought before Adam for names was, then, not just an occasion where labels were pinned on the animals like identification numbers. It represents---as “names” were understood in ancient times—Adam’s (humankind’s) insight into the natures of the various creatures, an insight needed to make his governing possible. …….It is still true today that the greatest and most admirable power of humans over animals is not found in those who slaughter or abuse them but in those who can govern their behavior by speaking to them—by communicating to them. ……..I believe that as things were intended, humanity would have “spoken” to the animals, directed their lives as needed, in cooperation with the rest of humankind and with the sovereign action of God, and that such direction would have been sometimes carried out through natural law and sometimes through acts of divine cooperation. The world of peace and cooperation of which humanity now only fitfully dreams would have been a reality.”
Montgomery Clyde was exercising the true human vocation. He named the bears, fed them the proper food and communicated with them. After his expulsion from the Guild he continued to exercise this vocation by creating the petting zoo.
Again Willard comments: “Perhaps our present tendency to have pets and zoos, to be fond of living creatures and domesticate them and our amazing powers to train and control other creatures on the planet are but a dim reflection of the divine intention for us. Our care about the extinction of species and our general feeling of responsibility and concern for the fate of animals, plants, and even the earth also speak of this divine intention”.
Millicent represents fallen humanity; she is the total opposite of her father. She is an agent of Death at war with creation and creatures all for her own vain glory. Her Cathedral of Knowledge in contrast to the Petting Zoo is a sad testimony to the fallen world.
“But we know that paradise was lost. The disruption of the harmony between God and humankind, and then between humans, were in fact earth shattering, cosmic events that made impossible the exercise of that rule to which humankind was appointed. Creation is now the unwilling subject of human vanity and folly, as we can see in Romans 8:20, just because it wasn’t governed by humanity in loving and intelligent harmony with itself and with God. It is in its present state due to the fact that humanity is at war with itself and with its God. (Dallas Willard)” 2
The echoes of Genesis are all over this story. Paddington in a subversive, and yes, entertaining way bypasses the hardened cynical mindset of the post modern world and deposits Biblical truth in the heart. It gives a glimpse not only to the original vocation given to the first Adam and the tragic consequences of the Fall, but it joyfully looks forward to the grand restoration made possible by the “last Adam” Jesus Christ.
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new”. And He said, “Write for these words are faithful and true”. Revelation 21:5
Note 1: The Hero Journey outlined in bold type can be found in “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler.
Note 2: All quotes by Dallas Willard are taken from “The Spirit of the Disciplines” chapter four.