When I saw the trailers for Avatar, the first thought that went through my head was “I gotta see this one.” But when I read the early reviews (which can be summarized as “all effects and a predictable story”) I figured I’d save my money. Then after it opened I started reading some other reviews attacking its “religious content” and I knew I had to see it for myself. So Cathy and I went to see it today.
It was awesome. Visually, it was beautiful. The effects were great, but they were woven into the story – they didn’t overwhelm it. Yes, some of the characters were stereotypes, but they were plausible. Yes, it perpetuated the “noble savage” myth, which has largely been disproved. But the central theme of the movie – that all living things are connected – is both powerful and highly appropriate for our world and our time.
That’s the extent of my review. Now I want to talk about some of the other comments.
Gus diZerega keeps a Pagan blog on Beliefnet. He calls Avatar “a very Pagan movie” – and I totally agree. He also says “how people react to it enables the movie to serve often as a Rorschach of their soul.” If they’re offended that corporations and mercenaries are the villains, then maybe they need to look a little deeper inside themselves and their values.
Ross Douthat of the New York Times whines that Avatar is another case of Hollywood promoting pantheism, citing Dances With Wolves, The Lion King, and of course, the Jedi of the Star Wars movies. He says “Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them.” You think there might be a reason for that, Ross? You think maybe people feel a call to Nature, since our modern world has done such a good job of alienating us from her? Douthat uses the Problem of Evil to claim that pantheism is an inferior religion, ignoring the fact that the form of Christianity he promotes simply claims that whatever their god wants is by definition “good” and therefore he’s not responsible for evil.
And Jonah Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times uses the movie to clamor for victim status for the majority religion of this country. He says “We live in an age in which it’s the norm to speak glowingly of spirituality but derisively of traditional religion. If the Na’Vi were Roman Catholics, there would be boycotts and protests. Make the oversized Smurfs Rousseauian noble savages and everyone nods along, save for a few cranky right-wingers.” No, Jonah, if the Na’Vi were Roman Catholics the movie would be pointless and no one would watch it.
There’s a reason why Douthat, Goldberg, and others are complaining about Avatar – they feel threatened. In the “marketplace of religions” conservative religions (despite the noise they make, and the very real damage they do in some parts of the world) are losing and liberal religions – including the ever-popular “spiritual but not religious” – are winning.
And that – like the movie Avatar – is a very good thing.