Why, perhaps, you should see Avatar
I know all the good reasons not to.
Yes, the story’s been told before—and better—in "Dances with Wolves." Lonely American
serviceman meets beautiful native girl who opens his eyes to a new way of
looking at the world and in so doing brings him into conflict with his own
people. One of the strengths of Costner’s film is character development; in
Cameron’s film everyone screams “caricature” from the male and female leads
down to the militaristic bad guy. Not since the old westerns of my youth have I
seen a film in which it was so clear who you should cheer for and who you
should boo as soon as he/she walks on screen as in "Avatar."
And yes, I’ve heard the reports – and been appalled by them! — of
parents naming their children Neytiri (Avatar’s
warrior-princess heroine), Pandora
(the planet), even Toruk, after the giant winged-steeds of the blue-skinned Na’Vi. It’s like naming your kid Artoodeetoo or
And yes, watching "Avatar"
does feel like eating too much junk food: it tastes good going down, but isn’t
very satisfying. There’s a reason for this.
unabashed nature-worship has already been round the block a few times in
Hollywood in films from "Star Wars" to "The Lion King." While pantheism’s
box-office appeal has been proven, philosophically it’s still light beer, as
Ross Douthat explained in his New York
“The question is
whether nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has
to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow
suffering and death. But nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence.
Its “circle of life” is really a circle of mortality.
Religion exists, in
part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We
stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with
self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for
This is an agonized position,
and if there’s no escape upward—or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as
the Christmas story has it—a deeply tragic one.”
If you’re looking for enlightenment, "Avatar" doesn’t offer
Still the film has received 9 Oscar nominations (including
Best Picture) and as of this morning has raked in an astonishing $2 billion in box office receipts so
far. And I can’t help but wonder why.
The easy answer is to point to "Avatar’s" obvious strength: it is visually stunning. Watching "Avatar"
was my first experience with a 3-D film, and while I must admit that wearing
the glasses felt a little goofy, they did open wide the doors of Pandora. Paying
an extra 3 bucks for the 3-D version of the film was well worth it. "Avatar’s" a shoo-in for the Best Visual Effects
But is "Avatar’s"
popularity due only to its good looks? I don’t think so. Like it or not,
Cameron has touched a nerve with this film, and in so doing he’s laid bare a
deep dissatisfaction in the way modern people look at nature.
At the end of his The
First Three Minutes Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg observed:
“As I write this I
happen to be in an airplane at 30,000 feet, flying over Wyoming en route home
from San Francisco to Boston. Below, the earth looks very soft and comfortable—fluffy
clouds here and there, snow turning pink as the sun sets, roads stretching
straight across the country from one town to another. It is very hard to
realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile
universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved
from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction
of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible,
the more it also seems pointless.”
The dilemma Weinberg describes is a familiar one: in making
the world understandable (and to a degree controllable) naturalistic science
has also stripped it of its mystery and beauty.
In "Avatar" Cameron seeks to
restore that beauty in the name of pantheism.
In Miracles C.S. Lewis reminds us that as followers of Jesus Christ we’re
better equipped for that task.
really see nature … To treat her as God or as Everything, is to lose the whole
pith and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see… this
astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of
atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes, and toads.
How could you ever have though this was the ultimate reality? How could you
have ever thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women?
She is herself. Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her.
If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run
down and die, we shall miss the half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this
ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch. But the
theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The ‘vanity’
to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured,
but cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid),not sterilised. We shall still
be able to recognize our old enemy, friend, playfellow, and foster-mother, so
perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry
No book or film is ever really understood, until one
understands what makes it attractive. If
you don’t see it in "Avatar," look