James Cameron's sci-fi epic "Avatar" is dazzling audiences across the globe—it just surpassed the director's blockbuster "Titanic" as the highest grossing film of all time worldwide—with the portrayal of the beautiful planet Pandora and its inhabitants, the Na'vi.
Pandora is a peaceful planet where the Na'vi deeply respect nature. The center of their spiritual life is the sacred Tree of Souls, which allows the Na'vi to communicate with the entire biological network on the planet. It is also a direct connection to their goddess, Eywa.
Author Carl McColman points out the Pagan-Christian connection of this name.
"Eywa -- whose name seems to be a möbius-strip inversion of 'Yahweh' suggesting that she encompasses both earth goddess and sky god."
He also notes the Pagan roots of the planet's name: "…Pandora was the 'Eve' of the pagan Greeks; the first woman, created by the gods and bestowed with many gifts, including a jar which contained both evil and hope."
Of course, the Na'vi have something that we here on Earth want—unobtainium, a rare ore that's found on their planet. And because the Na'vi can't be convinced to simply hand it over, the humans consider them "hostile" and decide to invade their planet and take it. But first, scientists send avatars, hybrid Na'vi-humans they've developed by intermixing DNA, to scope things out things, earn the trust of the Na'vi, and learn how the planet functions. These hybrids are controlled robotically by humans, safely away from Pandora. The main character, Jake Sully, operates one such hybrid.
In video game parlance "avatars" are assumed identities, but in the Hindu faith, they are human incarnations of the gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Hindus believe these avatars are sent to Earth to restore peace. Not in this case, however. In "Avatar," humans are prepared to go to war over the unobtainium.
Beliefnet's Movie Mom blogger, Nell Minow, says that the humans in the film have "lost their spiritual connection," but wind up finding "hope and meaning on a planet where the inhabitants have a palpable and literal connection to the divine."
Eventually Jake falls in love with a Na'vi named Neytiri and realizes the evil of the human conquest. He later prays to Eywa through the Tree of Souls to help the Na'vi and with the help of the animals of Pandora, they defeat the military. He is later permanently turned into a Na'vi through the Tree of Souls.
Like any good film, "Avatar" has endured its share of controversy. Some say the film is anti-American. Others criticize the religion portrayed as pantheistic and un-Christian. The film can be interpreted in many ways, but its spiritual theme is undeniable. Stewardship of the planet is found in the tenets of many faiths. And that's the heart of Na'vi spirituality.
The film also leaves us hopeful that one person's efforts to protect what's good can influence others to speak up in the face of evil.
Photo: 20th Century Fox