… The Golden Compass: how quickly we become accustomed to their reality.
In The Golden Compass, people have animal manifestations of their souls that accompany them everywhere, connected in a psychic/metaphysical way that means one is never far from the other. At first we’re unsure what the little animals are, but very quickly it becomes clear that the animals are a part of the person’s identity, that by talking to these animals the people are really facing parts of themselves. The things that happen to them happen to their animal companions; the things they do to their animal companions, they actually do to themselves.
It’s not that it’s a hard concept for the audience to get our heads around – it’s that, by the middle of the film, we’ve accepted the notion of the animal companion so completely that, when we see a little boy who doesn’t have one, we feel confusion and alarm: this is not the natural state of things! What’s happened to the little boy’s soul?! We are upset by his loss as though we already lived in a world where we had animal companions as well – we grieve for his loss of something that, an hour ago, we had never heard of in our entire lives.
Is it that we, in the real world, feel a connection to something mystical from which we have been separated? The film certainly seems to suggest this, and, watching it, a viewer might be prompted to seek a reconnection to that “animal companion” we can no longer see or hear with our “scientific” minds. But, whether or not we take the events of the film with us after it’s over, the fact that we fall so totally into Compass’s reality is a hallmark of very good story-telling. Almost as soon as the story begins, we become so much a part of this very different world-view that we’re a little disappointed when it ends, a little disappointed that we have no animal companion to share it with.