The Navigator (New Zealand, 1988) is a wonderful little spi-fi (spiritual fiction) gem. Great movies aren’t always “masterpieces”— the big, conspicuously-wrought if not over-wrought works. There are also gems—small films on tiny budgets that pack more meaning and feeling in 90 minutes or so, than George Lucas did in the most recent seven hours of Star Wars. Please don’t confuse this movie with the cheesy 1986 children’s sci-fi The Flight of the Navigator. This is different. Very different.
The setting is a village in Celtic Cumbria in 1348, which is anticipating arrival of the Black Death any day. Griffin, a boy in the village, has been having visions (filmed in color in an otherwise black-and-white movie) of a journey to the other side of the world and erecting a cross on the steeple of a huge, white church. When his older brother Connor comes back from a journey, he brings news that the Death is much closer than previously feared, and will probably begin striking the village when the full moon sets, which is the next morning.
Griffin inspires the men of the village to follow him to a cave where they can punch through to the great city on the other side of the world, and erect a cross as an offering to God to spare them from the plague. There, in the cave, they see the strange sights that Griffin’s visions described, and depending on him as their guide, he navigates them through the frightening vision that is 1988 Auckland, New Zealand.
I don’t want to give anything else anyway—but suffice it to say this is perhaps the most realistic look at medićval British village life ever shown in a movie. The peasants, though illiterate and superstitious, are intelligent, and respond to the horror threatening their world with perfect faith and trust in God, as well as in the visions of their young mystic, Griffin. Ultimately, though, the offering that is needed is not of a cross, but the teacher’s demonstration of love.
This is a brilliant metaphor of Christ’s descent into hell, and the bodhisattva heart. It’s a paean to those shepherds, teachers, shamans, and navigators who devote their lives to guiding us in the territory that only the soul can see. Directed by Vincent Ward, director of Vigil, Map of the Human Heart, and What Dreams May Come, The Navigator also has a brilliant, moving film score by Iranian-born Davood Tabrizi. Only complaint? Subtitles would be useful. I’m an American—I don’t speak that English!