Avatar.jpgBy Jeremy Berg

After braving the 15 below zero weather, fighting people for seats (almost literally), finding clean 3D glasses and smuggling in pop and snacks, we were ready to experience James Cameron’s visually stunning world of Pandora filled with 8 feet tall blue people — or, as someone else put it, “warrior Smurfs.”
It’s always nice when a film lives up to all the hype.  This movie delivers on it’s promise of matchless special effects and all the cinematic bells and whistles that will someday soon be in all films.  I can’t imagine it will be more than 5 years before 2D films go the way of the dinosaur.  To be honest, the visual experience is what drew me to see Avatar — not James Cameron’s storytelling.
How about the story?  Well, I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that Hollywood’s rewind button may be stuck.  More than one person has called this movie the equivalent of Dances With Wolves in space.  Another called it “Rambo in reverse.”  Read a plot summary HERE. What I do know for certain is that this film was jam packed with all the hot-button religious and political themes so popular in Hollywood and the culture in general.

Where do we begin?
Daily Illumination movie reviews are focused primarily on the deeper religious, political and worldview issues and messages laden in such films.  Thus, I merely highlight some of the more obvious in Avatar.
1. This is overt Eastern “pantheism” at it’s best. Cameron clearly depicts Pandora as a world where the sum total of creatures and nature are all part of the Divine. We are all one with nature, and mother earth is just sharing her life and energy with us. There is a cosmic harmony and interconnectedness to the natural order that must be maintained. If tampered with, for instance the sacred Tree they find their energy and well-being from, disastrous consequences will follow.  But the message is not merely one of treating the natural world with all it’s creatures with dignity and respect; the land is divine and elevated to the status of godhood. We are not merely wise stewards and guardians of nature; nature is divine and ourselves as part of it. We are all part of divine All.
As Christians, we hold the natural world to be the magnificent handiwork of the Creator and our divine purpose as the imago Dei is to be his wise, caring stewards of it. There is a clear Creator-creation distinction that must be maintained. All is not divine (i.e., pan= all + theism = god). We have a natural God-given impulse to worship, and if we do not acknowledge the true God to whom all worship is due, we will by a natural instinct find some other lesser person or object or thing to worship. Thus, Avatar was 2 hours and 40 minutes of watching Romans 1 acted out before my eyes as the blue Na’vi people “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25).
2. Interestingly, in the movie it is not some religious teacher or shaman who points out this spiritual truth.  It is the enlightened, reasonable and well-informed Scientists who must try to open the dull and barbaric minds of the reckless, power hungry military folk. Again, much like my review of the movie “2012”, Hollywood has little time for religious teachers and seems to enjoy making the Scientist the hero of the day — the most reasonable, most educated, most sophisticated and clearly most enlightened people around. Certainly, it not accidental that the more trendy and culturally vogue spirituality of Eastern pantheism is even given some scientific support in the film as we learn about the “energy” permeating all things, sustaining order in the world.  While many today, when it comes to Christianity, like to drive a deep and unbridgeable wedge between faith and science, we see more willingness to entertain a harmonious relationship between the two when it comes to other (non-Christian) forms of spirituality.
3. The strong, clear nod to our nation’s less-than-pretty beginnings was well-deserved as we Americans indeed have a horrid past filled with cruel and inhuman treatment of Native American lands and peoples. Our country was born amidst such blind and ethnocentrically driven colonization efforts, not to mention on the shoulders of African slave-labor. I don’t mind being reminded of this stain on our country’s national conscience. Let us always strive toward a greater understanding of and appreciation for those different from us. Let us learn from our forefathers’ mistakes and, like Jake Sully, learn by inhabiting the different worlds, beliefs and values of our fellow beings in hopes of peaceful coexistence.
4. Likewise, and not surprising considering the “Green Revolution” and global warming buzz all around us, the movie sends a strong message to those who would rashly, blindly and stubbornly exploit and destroy the earth’s natural resources and ecosystem for power, profit and self-interest. The message was clear. Hopefully the message is getting through. Though many are taking the message too far — leading to the worship of the environment rather than wise, responsible care and stewardship of it.
5. Finally, I am not a military kind of guy.  But even I thought the over the top caricature of the military soldiers as thick-headed, irrational, blood-thirsty warmongers was deeply disrespectful to good and decent soldiers who serve their country with honor, dignity and courage. I thought the part of the Captain with his southern accent and intimidating presence was casted well and very entertaining.  But I think  I would have been offended by Cameron’s portrayal of the military overall if I were in the military myself.
Make no mistake about it. This was an enjoyable film and I recommend seeing it before it leaves the 3D theaters. Alongside all these pervasive religious and political messages undergirding the action, you find a classic plot line filled with all the elements that make a good story: good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains, love and romance, breathtaking scenery, action and suspense and some good battle scenes with plenty of gunfire and explosions.
Book your ticket now for a trip to the strange land of tall, blue warrior Smurfs in Pandora!  It’s worth the ride and price of admission!
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