I hate reading the views of others before seeing a movie, yet I kind of fell into that with the new movie Avatar. The religious community, especially many in the Christian community, had few positive things to say about Avatar. Unfortunately, I have heard these complaints before, with ET and Star Wars. Many are being critical of this film for the same reasons, based on what someone said in a review.
I decided to see the movie to see if, once again, the religious community was jumping the gun, or if in fact the spirit in me would convince me they were right or wrong. (Note that I am being sarcastic because this argument gives us the excuse to not use logic or reason to support our views.) Now to try and do something that I have actually seen few Christian reviews (outside of Hollywood Jesus) do: talk about the movie and the positive aspects of it.
First, if you are just arriving back from the space shuttle, out of prison, from the dark pits of a jungle, or some other place where you have been away from movie news, let me tell you a little about the new release Avatar. This film directed and written by James Cameron took right around 5 years to make. For Cameron, this was a labor of love, and many think the initial costs of production will actually make it difficult for the movie to make profits. It is extremely sad if that is the case because, especially in the 3-D format which is the version of movie I saw, we see brilliance on screen. Not since Star Wars can I think of a movie that advanced cinematic imagery better than Avatar. I use the following word carefully, but I marveled at the images portrayed on screen.
Apparently Cameron oversaw every facet of the film and what happens visually in the blending of animation, CGI, and live action has one forgetting, and at times even confused as to the images they are seeing, what is real and what is CGI; we simply marvel at what we are seeing on screen. The 3-D effects do a good job at placing us in the movie. (On the point of 3-D, I will say while it was good, it wasn’t the best I have seen. I appreciated the 3-D in 2009’s Disney’s A Christmas Carol much more.) If reviewing a film based simply on visual, sound, editing, direction, and technical aspects, Avatar would be an easy 10 for me. Unfortunately there is more to a movie than just the visual and technical.
Avatar, rated Pg-13, has Jake (a paraplegic war veteran) going to the planet Pandora. Pandora has as its people the Na’vi. This humanoid race has its own culture deeply rooted in their planet’s history and religious beliefs. They are connected with nature, and ultimately with each other and their creator. We see early on that a way has been developed for the humans to take on the bodily form of the Na’vi. Jake has been chosen for this option. He is to learn the ways of the Na’vi and in the process assist humans in developing the land to obtain its valuable resources. Jake begins to develop relationships with the Na’vi, especially the beautiful Neytiri who is responsible for his training. As their relationship develops, Jake not only starts to fall in love with Neytiri, he falls in love with the people and culture of the Na’vi. This doesn’t sit well with those who have no respect for the people of Pandora, and Jake has to ultimately choose sides.
Unfortunately the main problem with Avatar is the story. We see a story we have seen many times before, albeit not always as well done as here. In the development of story we lose some of the quality as it is not very deep. The acting is credible; especially the grieving scenes are very moving. However, it takes too long to develop, and I found the first 30-45 minutes boring. The cast does a credible job, especially Sigourney Weaver who plays Dr. Grace Augustine. Her role may have more audience appeal than anything she has played in some time. One of the things each of the characters do through CGI and Live Action is deliver a wide range of emotion, and with virtually every character, we see class work.
One of the criticisms of Avatar is that it promotes “New Age” beliefs, especially in the appreciation and care of the planet. Many forget about the Biblical mandate in Genesis to take care of the planet. There seems to be the belief that the earth (some would say the parallel intended by Cameron with the planet Pandora) is there for us to use as we want, to our benefit. Many Christians forget about their teachings that God created the earth with a purpose; it was all good, and it all works together. There is the mandate to care for the planet. The book of Romans specifically states that God has revealed and shown himself through nature. However, because some particular belief that we disagree with also uses those same concepts, many want to throw out the baby with the bath water.
I think another point of criticism that parallels the film to New Age concepts is rooted in prejudice and sexism. Don’t get me wrong, but I really believe this. Avatar refers to the creator as she as opposed to he. For many this is likely rooted in their issue with Mother Earth. There seems to be an unwillingness or guilt association that relates anything feminine to the nature of God. Many Christians either don’t know, or forget, that there are also references to God that relate him to a loving and caring mother, a feminine attribute.
There is also the refusal to accept others who are different, and anything that seems to want to draw people together through their spirits is based not only on racial prejudice, but religious bigotry. I think that the alien concept is one some may have issue with, but while the body may be different, their spirits are intertwined, all created by God; and God is willing to listen to all individuals in prayer, when that prayer is sincere (another visual illustration portrayed in this supposedly evil and dangerous movie). Strong words I know, but even though this may not be a conscious response by many, I believe that for some it is, and for others, a subconscious reality.
But there are ample positive aspects that are more than a little unique in Avatar. The film has been released the week prior to Christmas, for instance, and Christmas is a time of year when many celebrate the birth of Jesus. In Avatar we actually see some of those same Christmas concepts focused on, I believe in a very appropriate, allegorical way.
We see Jake as one who takes on the form of the Na’vi. He becomes one of them so they will better understand him, and he better understands and relates to them. We see this developed in a beautiful way. He falls in love with the people and while they are quick at times to have him killed or not accept him he still offers a love built out of relationship. Jake is willing to ultimately offer up his life if need be to provide salvation to the people he has come to love.
There is even the teaching of the need for individuals to be “born twice.” Through the second birth the individual receiving the second birth can experience eternal life. Then there is the ultimate need that the people of Pandora have to submit to and follow Jake unconditionally to not only experience literal freedom, but spiritual freedom. Freedom that even in death, eternity is obtainable.
I wonder if these concepts presented in the film sound familiar to any who have been so critical for the movie being so much against the message of Jesus.
In theological terms (the study of God) we call this incarnation, something not only taught in various religious communities (as in the movie) but specifically taught in the Bible as an attribute of Jesus Christ. Yet I am confused because it seems as if so many people who state they are followers of their religious beliefs are so quick to point to New Age concepts in the movie instead of seeing illustrations that can point toward their own spiritual beliefs. I have seen two particular reviews from Christian web sites that are even more focused on the political aspects than they are the spiritual aspects addressed in the film. Not a one brings out the spiritual parallels mentioned here, at least that I have seen.
I have to wonder: are people, especially some Christians, so much like the humans in the film that they forget about the message of incarnation to people who are different, to people who not only desire love and understanding, but desire to offer that love and understanding back to their creator? It is through the incarnational aspects we see presented in Avatar that we can learn and see messages of how missions, whether to other countries or our own communities, can have the opportunity for success. Enough on that ramble, though; I suspect the conversation will continue, and each of us will be led by God’s Spirit to come to the right decision. I just wonder, though, when making such direct commentary and when there are those that disagree, how do we know which one has really heard from God on their conclusions?
I know some people go to movies to just enjoy the movie, and I am fine with that; but I love going to see if there is spiritual commentary in the film. The reality is, like it or not, these types of associations do not happen by chance. One doesn’t have to look far to see these associations in Avatar; heck, all one has to do is stay awake and watch the movie. Avatar is loaded with ample opportunity to discuss faith, the protection of the planet, and so much more. Whether you care about the rainforest, a parallel in the film, or you care about the desire to know God, or even the ability to love those who are different, this film has it all. It is done in an incredibly beautiful way visually and conceptually. While the story is old, Cameron does justice to it. It isn’t perfect, but it is still very good and one I think fulfilled my expectations. I wouldn’t say it is the best movie of the season, but it is one well worth watching.
On a scale of 1 – 10, for the potential of infinity (eternity) the movie suggests, minus the two words of Second Birth, I give it a very deserving and entertaining 8.