Directed by Richard Attenborough
minutes (PG rating)
With all the hype surrounding the movie version of The
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it seemed fitting for
me to finally get around to viewing Shadowlands (1993),
a touching, intelligent film about Narnia’s creator,
C. S. Lewis, and his brief but tragic love affair with Joy
The film takes place just as Lewis is winding down the Narnia
Chronicles—and receiving his fair share of ribbing from
his colleagues about his love of “magic” and potential
Freudian overtones in his work. World famous as an author
and lecturer, Lewis and his brother Warnie have settled into
the comfortable albeit insular life of Oxford academia.
happy equilibrium of their world is seriously rocked, however,
with the arrival of Joy Davidman Gresham, one of Lewis’s
most ardent American admirers. Claiming to be on vacation
in England with her son Douglas, Joy writes Lewis asking if
she might pay him a complimentary visit. Little does Lewis
realize that honoring her request will seriously alter the
rest of his life.
witty, and intelligent, Joy quickly demonstrates that she
is no wide-eyed groupie. Despite her frankness, Lewis is quite
taken by her, to the point that he invites her and Douglas
to spend Christmas with him and Warnie. It’s during
this time that he learns Joy isn’t really on vacation;
she’s left her husband, who is an abusive alcoholic,
and is trying to start a new life.
Christmas is over, Joy and Douglas head back to America to
sort out her divorce, and Lewis returns to his work. Without
Joy around, however, things just aren’t the same. That
situation is rectified a short while later when Lewis discovers
that Joy and Douglas have returned to England, this time for
good. There’s just one problem: To maintain her residency,
Joy needs to marry an Englishman. Would Lewis be willing?
Always the gentleman, Lewis complies, and the two undergo
a secret civil ceremony.
bound together legally, Lewis and Joy maintain a relationship
as friends who claim to have no romantic intentions. This
uneasy situation is shattered when Joy is diagnosed with an
advanced case of cancer. Suddenly, Lewis’s suppressed
emotions leap to the fore as he realizes how much Joy means
to him. Her illness also calls Lewis to account on other levels.
the early part of the film, Lewis is shown blithely lecturing
on the topic of suffering, referring to pain as “God’s
megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” “We are like
blocks of stone,” says Lewis,
of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows
of His chisel, which hurt so much, are what makes us perfect.
his argument seems to sew things up neatly from a logical
point of view, one senses that it will do little to comfort
those in the midst of grief. Lewis discovers this firsthand
as he struggles to make sense of Joy’s illness, going
through a full range of emotions, from anger to shock to grief.
When the blows of God’s chisel begin to fall, for perhaps
the first time in his adult life, Lewis, the Oxford don with
all the answers, realizes that he still has a lot to learn.
And this time experience—not books—will be his
was surprised by how much Shadowlands moved me. The
way people have canonized Lewis today, it is difficult to
imagine him as a romantic being—much less a sexual one—so
it is good to see him humanized. His relationship with Joy
is tender, touching, and real. The viewer’s sympathies
also go to young Douglas, who not only loses his mother but
also does so in a strange land amongst people he barely knows.
said, it’s difficult not to see the hand of God in this
situation, placing Douglas in the home of Lewis, who went
through exactly the same sort of loss as a young boy. The
two provide much needed support and understanding to each
other during their time of grief.
another level, I saw in Shawdowlands a testament
as to the most effective response churches can make with regards
to pain and suffering in the world. Quick and sometimes easy
answers to the problem of pain have been all too common of
late. But through Lewis’s journey, we come to realize
that while developing a theoretical response to pain is important
and necessary, sometimes the best thing we can do for those
who are suffering is come alongside them and share in their
grief. The time for answers will come, but even then we need
to realize that there are things the heart can know that the
mind will never understand.
@ 2005 Kevin Miller