MPAA Rating: TV-PG
USCCB Rating: Not Rated
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 reels
I was eight years old when I first saw The Dark Crystal—and it scared me to death. The grotesque wrinkles of the Skeksis and lifeless eyes of the Garthim were far too much to handle. Yet despite my dread, I felt inexplicably drawn to Jim Henson’s world and re-entered the living room as often as I left it.
Now comes the prequel series, on Netflix, titled The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, which is just as dark but is far more sophisticated and complex. Both the original film and its prequel promote a strong pantheistic ethic, but in age that is becoming deprived of any ethics whatsoever, that’s not necessarily a major flaw or drawback to the series (more on that below).
Thra is a planet dominated by the Skeksis, vulture-like creatures who draw their power from a mysterious object called the Dark Crystal. Under the thumb of the Skeksis are the Gelflings, elvish creatures broken into seven clans, each with a unique personality and set of skills. Their worldview becomes upset when Rian (Taron Egerton), a castle guard, witnesses the Skeksis using the Crystal to drain his girlfriend’s essence to unnaturally prolong their lifespan. At first, no one believes him, and Rian becomes a fugitive. He is soon joined by the princess Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy), who keeps having visions of a strange symbol, and the cave farmer Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel), who was a given a prophecy about an eschatological entity called the Darkening. Together, they must unite the clans, defeat the Skeksis, and stop the destruction of Thra.
One of the great gifts that television and cinema can give is visual awe, like Dorothy seeing the Land of Oz in color for the first time. Age of Resistance achieves this experience through one of the most detailed fantasy landscapes in recent memory. Every one of the nearly seventy sets, from the vast foliage of Stone-in-the-Wood to the luminous caves of Grotten to the harsh emptiness of the Skeksis castle, is lovingly crafted without a CGI image to be found. So, too, every new chapter reveals compelling characters and an increasingly intriguing mythology.
Another essential aspect was its adherence to traditional archetypes. It’s a fad now to amend or even upset traditional tropes in fantasy, but Age of Resistance brilliantly demonstrates that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Rian is the classic hero who must save the realm—and even gets his own version of Excalibur. Deet and her Podling companion Hop (Victor Yerrid) are great personality foils. Deet is sweet, kind, and intelligent; Hop is aggressive, impulsive, and clueless. The Skeksis are truly evil with no talk of redemption. There is good and bad—and good will triumph.
Like the original, Age of Resistance advocates a pantheistic ethic via the monistic concept of all becoming one. The Skeksis deliberately sow division among the Gelfling clans to keep them weak. Characters are constantly complaining that Deet “smells” and is “dirty” because her clan lives in caves. The prophetic Vapra are perceived as greedy and disparaged because they “never do anything for free.” It’s no accident that the three main protagonists are each from a different clan or that Rian and Deet develop romantic feelings for one another. It is Brea who discovers that “no clan is better than another” and that they must unite to defeat their common enemy.
This theme of unity by itself is not explicitly pantheistic, but the series unveils more clues as it progresses. Before the Skeksis, Thra was ruled by Mother Aughra (Donna Kimball), a strange creature who has the traditional Hindu “third eye.” When anything dies it “returns to Thra” to be born again. In this way, everything is the same. The Skeksis themselves are only half a being, spiritually united with the peaceful Mystics, manatee-like wizards who speaks with frustrating slowness. Whenever a Mystic or Skeksis is hurt or dies, its counterpart experiences the same thing.
Pope St. John Paul II once said that his favorite Bible passage was John 8:32, where Jesus states, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Although largely subconscious, Age of Resistance does a brilliant job illustrating this theme. The Skeksis control Thra by spinning an elaborate mythology regarding their own power. They are immortal, all powerful, and superior to any other race. By paying tithes and submitting to the Skeksis’ will, the Gelfling clans will have peace and order. In truth, they are mortal and not even originally from Thra. When Rian threatens to expose the Skeksis, the Chamberlain eases their fear. “Even if he tells, they will not believe,” he hisses. “To believe him is to not believe themselves.”
Despite mounting evidence, the new Gelfling leader Seladon (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) refuses to abandon her loyalty to the Skeksis, going so far as to fight against the rebel Gelflings. “We must obey the lords,” she insists even as their demands become more and more severe. Yet there comes a point where the Skeksis thirst for Gelfling essence is so strong they drop the façade and freely admit their crimes to Seladon with howling laughter. It’s the most devastating scene in the series and drives home the point that negotiating with evil is never beneficial. God will not compromise with evil to accomplish good, but evil is often content to willingly allow some good to bring about even greater evil and sin.
The series ends with a large enough gap for another season, and it can’t come soon enough. Age of Resistance is not for the faint of heart, and certainly is not for children, but beautifully cuts through the mire of postmodern spiritual trash. Even if its target is off, aiming more for Buddha rather than for Christ, it’s a lot closer than most of its contemporaries.
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