Shadowlands – the adult life of CS Lewis

Released in 1993 and directed by Richard Attenborough, Shadowlands features astonishing performances by Anthony
Hopkins and Debra Winger and is the true story of CS Lewis and H. Joy Davidman Gresham. With reasonable (for Hollywood)
accuracy, and unusual (for Hollywood) sensitivity to Christian issues, “Shadowlands” tells of Lewis and Gresham’s love, happiness and suffering. But it majors on Lewis’ lifelong search for the answer to THE QUESTION:

“Does pain, (and therefore – LIFE), make sense?”

The story is simple enough and one gives nothing away by telling the details. Lewis, the celebrated Oxford don, Christian apologist, children’s author, and emotionally detached bachelor, meets Gresham, American divorcee, poetess, mother, and reader. She comes to England as a fan, seeking out the admired author. He is intrigued by the bright and brash American. They become friends and they have a “technical” marriage before a judge to satisfy some immigration difficulties for her. But she becomes ill with cancer and Lewis, realizing his love for her, marries her again, this time in a religious ceremony. They enjoy a couple of years of happiness and then she dies. Before he has to suffer her loss, Lewis frequently lectures and writes about suffering

“Why? [do we suffer?] Isn’t God supposed to be good? … I’m not so sure God wants us to be happy. He wants us to love and be loved. He wants us to grow up. Suffering is his gift …. Suffering is the something that drives us out of the nursery to help others.”  

During Joy’s sickness and during the agonizing months after her death, the academic Lewis, who has studied and analyzed suffering, comes to experience it to the hilt. His Christian faith, always the main engine in his life, is sorely tested. He cries out, he rages, he doubts, he prays and at last he returns to where he started — faith — but now chastened his answers no longer self-assured or glib. His theology was always Biblical and confessional but now it is tested and proved in the hot-box of experience. He says to Joy as she writhes in pain on her death bed, “When it gets close, you find out if you really believe it.”  

Remarkably, unlike the way religiously motivated people are usually treated in the movies, this film watches his agony with respect. And, in the end, when he walks through a golden valley, (the main image in the movie for elusive joy), the movie lets us share his peace. Lewis had been right all along. It took the major tragedy of his life for the truth to become more than an academic exercise for him.

“Shadowlands” is a rare and precious thing: a well- made major motion picture that deals honestly with people whose driving force in life is faith.

Here’s a prezi – as always a work in progress – that looks at some of the issues raised by the film: