I’ve actually seen the movie twice now. Both times in 3-D. I first saw it with my good friend Sergio in Nashville. The second time was with my wife Vicky on our anniversary. I wanted to be able to talk about it with her and hear her thoughts and impressions.
There may be spoilers below so if you haven’t seen it yet, read at your own risk.
1. First let me say that Avatar was one of the most visually Stunning movies ever.
a. This was truly one of the most stunning visual movies I’ve ever seen. This would be true with or without the 3-D, but the 3-D takes it to a whole new level. It was awesome to see the depth of character’s faces which is missing in other movies. The visuals of the floating seeds, the buzzing flies and other creatures of the forest were amazing. After a while, you forget about the glasses—definitely recommend that if you’re going to go see it, do so in 3-D
b. I loved the night shots of the forest and the bioluminescence of everything. I noticed that this really didn’t click in until the character of Jake got into the water after a fight with a pack of “dogs”. I didn’t think to take notice of it until afterwards, but did he get a drink of the water? Did Jake slip and fall into the water? I honestly can’t remember so if you do, please tell me.
c. The creature designs were excellent. Very unique physiologies and patterns. I especially liked the flying sequences as they were riding. Related notes, the 3D really made the heights more intimidating.
2. Yes, there was a lot of Contemporary Politics & Environmentalism
a. Yeah, there were several lines that went there. The main character Jake Sully had a fixable injury but couldn’t pay for it—health care debate.
b. “Fight Terror with Terror” and “Shock and Awe” along with the ex-soldiers getting paid by greedy corporations for “security” like what we see in Iraq with some of our US contracts.
c. “Unobtanium” (a really dumb name in my opinion) could be replaced for concepts related to oil or other natural resources or precious materials like gold or diamonds.
d. “There’s no green there. They killed their Mother” brought up environmental issues. Apparently even the future has no way of doing anything other than strip mining or clear cutting—no improvement over modern techniques that already can do it better than that.
e. Exploitation/Forced Relocation/Broken Treaties in relation to “uncivilized” populations when a superpower wants something of theirs but we have nothing they really want. Refers to the moral bankruptcy of our greedy capitalist system. This follows a Dances With Wolves model of American or colonial expansion.
f. Many of these issues raised are legitimate criticisms and should cause us to pause and reflect on our role and actions in the world. We are far from perfect and we have a tendency to justify our actions because they happen to serve our interests. I don’t think anyone would disagree that there are times in our history when we have crossed the line. Does that mean that everything in recent history has crossed that line, no it doesn’t. Are we capable of it… yes, we are.
This “commentary” doesn’t bother me all that much as “war” movies over the years have always used contemporary/historical statements as lines in their movies—from John Wayne, to the Vietnam era, to Top Gun and Rambo, to this. Ironically, I remember when Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith came out. Many people saw George Lucas as ripping George W. Bush and his administration’s policies. Rewatching recently and watching some of the commentaries—it fits just as nicely with the Obama administration too—which means Lucas really has a good grasp of how power tempts and corrupts politicians and societies.
g. One way of understanding Avatar would be to look at it as a Reverse Independence Day or V (since a remake is currently airing). Instead of being the unsuspecting planet who wakes up to a powerful invading alien race that seeks to harvest our planet and we valiantly rise up in defense of our planet; this time we are the invading aliens and the native population must rise up against our harvesters.
OK, so if you haven’t figured it out already, elements of faith are very important to me. Those issues are the calling of my life. So I’m going to see them in everything and analyze them. I love analyzing the messages of movies or shows--it’s what I love doing and have done for years. So you’ll have to deal with my analysis of the spiritual themes of the movie.
3. Pagan/Animistic Theology
a. Some people are really bothered by this aspect of the movie, but honestly I was not. It was a pretty accurate depiction of an animistic belief system that is typical of many tribal cultures, particularly African or Native American. They do have a “brotherhood” to the natural world. They do say certain phrases at the hunt—they do see spirits in animals and trees and places. They do interpret moments as more than mere coincidences. They do see many of their deities as male and female.
b. I actually thought their belief system was pretty consistent and not overbearing. Perhaps the moment that was overbearing, especially considering Cameron’s rejection of Christianity was Sigourney Weaver’s “She’s real!” moment as she blissfully becomes one with the “Mother”
c. Imagine how much more awkward and inappropriate and insulting it would have been if the religion depicted for the alien culture light years away from my own would have been a Messianic faith similar to Christianity. There would be significant differences of course and those would be more pronounced—Jesus as one of the Navi’—but like Cameron would argue—show his tomb—show his wife and descendants. That would have been totally insulting and inconsistent to the story he was trying to tell.
4. Best Lies are Closest to the Truth
a. This movie is another example of Deception being effective because it is so close to the Truth.
b. This is a lesson I learned hard when I was 18. The easiest lie to believe is the one that is closest to the truth. A great movie example would be Pleasantville—by using an effective visual tool it retells and reinterprets the first few chapters of Genesis with the Garden of Eden and how the concept of the “Fall” was really a good thing.
c. Avatar closely appeals to the Truth but twists it in such a way that our conclusions go in a different direction. Here’s what I mean.
d. Avatar effectively plays off of a deep seated desire and dream within the human heart and spirit. We know our world is broken and it is somehow our fault. As a result, we have a longing for a perfect world—a return to an Eden state of living.
e. In fact, the movie starts off with the main character Jake talking about his dream of flying. While I’ve heard of some false teachers claim humans could fly in the Garden of Eden, I see no reason to think we could, but in some way there is some kind of imprint on our spirit in the way we watch eagles soar. Perhaps we have memories of angels and their flight—always depicted with wings.
f. We also have a longing for a connection to nature and the animals. In the Garden, Adam & Eve were vegetarians, everything was provided for them by the trees and plants. Animals were not something to be feared but were approachable. They were named by Adam which demonstrated our position in authority over them.
g. We feel a disconnection with nature. Other movies have played with this theme—
especially ones like Dances With Wolves (a storyline Avatar heavily borrows from). The natural world of Pandora is poisonous to humans. Avatar gives Jake a new body with which he can reconnect with the natural world—a world that has physical and measurable connections. The Navi (sp?) can literally connect to other animals through their ponytail thing and even to trees and other biological systems. They essentially have a direct link to their ecosystem and other animals that never lets them lose sight of the bond they have.
h. It’s this link or bond that allows them to control various animals. As a result, everything the humans do with technology, the Navi do it with a natural equivalent. We have helicopters, they have the flying dragon things. We have transports, trucks and such, they have “horses”. We use cables and chambers to transfer consciousness, they use their ponytail and organic fibers to bridge the consciousness from one body to another.
i. Jake’s character begins to “see” the world again and especially his place in it. Before due to injury and disillusionment, he had little passion and purpose in life. Once reconnected as a member of the People, he regains his sense of identity. The bonding is so powerful that Jake begins to see the forest world as more “real” than the other.
j. James Cameron is by no means a friend of Christianity as evidenced by his efforts to prove that he had discovered family burial cave of Jesus. See these articles here, here with Christian responses here and here and here. He, like many see the Western world and particularly Christianity as responsible for the destruction of our connection to nature. They blame interpretations of Genesis 1 & 2 and human’s superior place in creation for the willingness to clear cut, strip mine etc. Christianity is thus responsible for clear cutting, strip mining, environmental subjugation and sacrifice for the sake of humans. Have those been used to justify… yes, wrongly so. We were given a responsibility to be stewards and caretakers, however Cameron and others so often see humanity as the plague of nature—and human life as no different and even less valuable than nature. We do have a special place in God’s creation—unique in our relationship with Him—uniquely made in His image—uniquely responsible for our actions.
k. These accusations against Christianity destroying our connection to nature are common, but if you really understood the future Christianity looks forward to—the hope of Christ is the only way that connection will be restored—our connection with our Creator will be restored—creation’s decay caused by our sin will be fixed and the lion will again lay down with the lamb. The river of life will flow and the tree will once again bear fruit every month for the healing of the nations.
l. This longing deep in Jake’s heart to be connected to his surrounding world is the hope that the Bible highlights in the future Kingdom of God because it harkens back to the way it originally was and points to the way it one day will be. Like I said, the error comes so close to getting it right—there is nothing wrong with the desire—but there is something wrong with the means Avatar proposes—a reconnection to “mother” nature and our spirit brothers by rejecting the culture which Jake came from which has at its heart a Christian base.
5. Wild at Heart
a. Many of the themes of this movie, especially the longing of Jake’s character are touched on in the book Wild At Heart by John Eldredge.
b. When you see Jake at the beginning—in trying to live the life and fight the fight his culture had for him—he had his legs cut out from under him. And of course that culture’s callousness abounds b/c it wouldn’t even fix his legs b/c he wasn’t wealthy enough (and yes, that was commentary on the contemporary health care debate). In many ways, he wanted to be in his brother’s place—dead. He had nothing to live for, no light in his eyes, no joy, no hope. He was empty as a man, both physically and spiritually. He had no adventure to live—in fact he couldn’t really see any prospects to do anything stuck in a wheelchair. He had no battle to fight—his culture had taken his ability and he didn’t really believe in the battle he was going to participate in, he was only doing it for the money. There was no love in his life—no wife, no prospect (in his mind) of finding any.
c. Only the possibility of walking, of fighting again, of being useful, of having the life that his brother had, of ending life as he new it and starting over in a “new body”, reborn essentially, gave Jake any sense of purpose and reason for living.
d. Those are the things that Wild at Heart propose lie at the heart and spirit of men, something that our culture and even our faith has failed to truly tap the strength of. At the heart of every man, placed there by God, proposes Eldredge is a longing for 3 things:
i. An Adventure to Live
ii. A Battle to fight
iii. A Beauty to Rescue
e. Each of these elements are played out in Jake Sully’s life. He has a new adventure in a strange land, full of new experiences, from climbing trees, to riding horses, to flying on amazing creatures. He finally has a battle to fight that he believes in and one that is truly noble and worth sacrificing his life for. He also finds that there is a woman to “rescue” and a whole people/community to be a part of.
f. There was a whole element of “rite of passage” that Wild at Heart points out our culture has largely lost. We don’t have anything that particularly tells us when we’re a man or what a man is supposed to do and the role he is supposed to fulfill. Jake had to prove he could hunt, ride, and climb up a floating mountain to subdue a flying dragon. In doing those things, he could join the people, have a voice of leadership, take a wife. It was clearly something Jake came to desire and look forward to; even to the point he would forgo a guaranteed operation to restore his “real legs”.
g. In doing all of these things, Jake found his “real” identity. He found an adventure to live for, a battle worth fighting and a woman to rescue. And he was willing to die for it. In finding this Jake was able to truly become a great leader and fulfill a great purpose and destiny.
h. In many ways, this is the kind of men, the kind of leadership that is sorely lacking in the church today. We have not encouraged nor demonstrated that a true faith in Christ gives us the greatest adventure to live, gives us the greatest thing worth fighting for, and makes us men truly capable of “rescuing” and leading and being the men that the women in our lives truly needs. We also come to understand that as the Bride of Christ, we were the one needing rescuing all along.
i. Avatar would have us abandon all that Christ is and return to a spiritized, pagan form of nature/goddess worship. The picture Cameron paints is stunning and beautiful—it resonates with our hearts and makes us say “yeah, I wish it were like that.” That’s why it’s so deceptive—it’s so close to God’s real plan that it sounds good. It is a lie that appeals to the very hope that God has placed in our hearts, but it takes us away from His solution.
6. The Truth
a. Yes, the world is broken. Yes, it is our fault. The Fall of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden was and continues to be the greatest environmental disaster in history. That one moment introduced death, decay, exploitation, and things against nature. Our role as stewards was tarnished. Now the world would produce thorns and thistles for our labor rather than the generous provision of God. The appeal of environmentalism is based on a spiritual truth, however environmentalism is mistaken about what to do.
b. We cannot fix it in our own strength and power. Fundamentally the problem has a spiritual cause. The impact of sin has a physical manifestation not just on humans, but on all of creation—The apostle Paul puts it like this in Romans 8:19-22
19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
c. Creation is broken—we cannot fix it. This is by no means a “I give up” position that says we should do nothing to care for the environment. I believe we should take up our original role of stewards as much as possible—but not b/c the earth is sacred and not to the extent that some do who see the natural world as equal to or more valuable than human life. We do have a special place in God’s creation—we are His masterpiece, the crowning moment of His creative work—Ephesians 2:10—“ For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Workmanship is the word “poema”, where we get poem. It can also be translated masterpiece.
d. The only fix for this environmental catastrophe is the coming of Messiah, who will restore and fix what is broken. The whole of the Old Testament points to that coming and anticipates it, prophecies it. The Gospels describe it in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The temptations of Jesus are a reversal of the fall of Adam—where Adam failed, Jesus overcame. The miracles of Jesus at each level demonstrate an ability to overcome the effect of the fall and even command nature itself—walking on water, calming the storm, healing disease, abundant feeding, overcoming death. Jesus said, “It is finished” from the cross because the work necessary to fix the spiritual problem/cause and thus all of creation, was accomplished. The truth of it was demonstrated by Hi s resurrection and the final conquering of death. Our hope in His return is when faith becomes sight—when the “garden” state is restored and we are once again able to take walks in the coolness of the day with our Creator—when the tree of life is restored and it’s abundance provides all we need. When there will be no more tears, no more crying, no more dying, no more night—because He is our Light.
e. Avatar’s ideal is so close… that makes it compelling. But it rejects the real source of that reality because of how we as followers of Jesus have so often messed it up. Jesus is the only way that ideal world will ever be the same—accepting Cameron’s vision in Avatar will only keep you farther away from ever living it.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie. I enjoyed seeing it, thinking about it's messages and talking about it. Yeah, I guess I'm weird that way.
Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,