Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Thoughts on Avatar

Avatar is now the highest grossing film of all-time in the U.S., and is well on it’s way to doing the same worldwide.  It is overwhelming and beautiful and another quantum leap in what is visually possible in a movie.  There are mountains of reviews and analysis out there, discussing every possible angle of the movie- religious, anti-war political overtones, racism, eco-terrorism, etc.- in every media outlet from Christianity Today to Oprah to MTV. What all of the reviews agree on, besides it’s technological genius, is that the director, James Cameron, set out to make a deeply spiritual movie. 

Cameron’s story centers on the mineral that the humans have come to Pandora to get. Unobtainium. The humans think that more Unobtainium and the wealth it will bring is What They Need. That it will fill their deepest desires. This is contrasted with the contentment of the Na’vi. As the human protagonist, Jake Sulley, says “What do we have to offer them? Light beer? Blue Jeans? They will never leave the Hometree [their sacred land]. We have nothing that they want.” The movie makes it clear that this desire for wealth comes at terrible cost to themselves, the environment, and anyone who gets in the way. As implied by the name, their true desires cannot be satisfied by more wealth, it is Unobtainable. Or maybe we could say it this way: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

Another key to the movie is the phrase “I see you”. It is used by the Na’vi throughout the movie to express an acknowledgement of the dignity, value and “connectedness” of the person (or creature) to whom it is directed. It is looking past the surface to see into the other person- to truly respect them, connect with them, to “know” their true self. Once experienced, Jake and the viewers want more. It is a longing to “know and be known”, and having been known to be not just accepted, but loved. What Cameron is looking for is the unconditional love that leads to true community. This is the universal longing, to love and be loved.

Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.
Mother Teresa

I believe that the critical and box office success Avatar is experiencing is not just due to the technological brilliance of the movie, but also to the hunger our culture has for a greater sense of purpose and authentic community.

As we think about these questions, perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie is the one-dimensional nature of the “bad guy” humans. They are so unreservedly and thoughtlessly destructive that no one watching the movie will possibly relate to them. With a few moments of doubt, with some emotional depth and respect for the humans, we could have walked away questioning ourselves. Instead, we will all be cheering for the Na’vi, and leave the theater thinking about the ways that we too are oppressed by ignorance and corporate greed. We will not see ourselves as the perpetrators, but as victims. And there’s the problem. The questions we need to leave asking are “what do I really desire?”, “at what cost  am I seeking it?”, “am I truly ‘seeing’ my neighbor?”. As we seek to “no longer conform to the patterns of this world” (Romans 12:2), these are questions well worth exploring.


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