Thursday, January 28, 2010


Full Disclosure - I have seen Avatar four times. Twice with my nephews in Ohio and Oklahoma, once in IMAX and always in 3D. I may go yet a 5th time to the IMAX. What moves me about this film (aside from the technological wizardry) is not the admittedly familiar and predictable plot, which is more Dune meets Romeo and Juliet than anything to do with Dances With Wolves (although Cameron did relate it to DWW). It is the depiction of Pandora as a world in which all life is in touch with the underlying planetary consciousness, known as Eywa, at some level. The Na'Vi are physically able to connect to it.

This concept is enough to get at least one commenter from the Vatican to suggest it encouraged nature worship. What a load of hooey, but not surprising given the source is the same organization that silenced Galileo and finally apologized in the 1990s. This is also the same organization that tried to silence Teilhard de Chardin but ultimately failed.

Avatar reminds us that all life is connected. On this world we started out as simple organisms that steadily evolved into the many species now present. Of these, we are the only species we know of that is self-aware to the point of contemplating past, present and future. Alone of all life on this world we wonder what our purpose is and our relationship to the rest of the universe. On Pandora those connections and relationships are explicit and the Na'Vi are capable of invoking "the bond" with more than one specie. Pandora itself contains a planetary consciousness, made up of all consciousness, although it is not entirely clear that it is self aware. It is certainly able to respond to Jake's entreaty as the final battle looms.

De Chardin proposed that our own world is evolving in terms of consciousness. He saw consciousness leading towards unification (hopefully the right word) with the "Cosmic Christ" on a planetary scale. The Na'Vi have the capability to make a real and physical connection to their planetary consciousness. We, on the other hand, have a lot more work to do. If Avatar reminds us of our connections, and spurs us to make changes to the way we live on this world and use its resources that will be quite an accomplishment, although not what Cameron started out to do.

In another vein, Alderman Balcer takes exception to Avatar's portrayal of mercenaries. He starts out conflating the mercenaries with Marines and then goes on from there to declare the film anti-American. He might want to consider signing up at a Catholic seminary, getting ordained, and then moving to Rome to help the Church wail about the worship of nature.

I did not perceive Avatar as anti-American, although likely anti-mercenary. If anything, it is pro-life on a very fundamental level. It does not confuse the reality of what it takes to survive with gratuitous, self serving actions, such as a corporation blowing up a village that is inconveniently located.

If Avatar has done anything, it has rattled some fairly comfortable cages with a reminder that life does not exist in a vacuum devoid of relationships. We can make choices that are life enhancing and mutually supportive, or we can act like selfish, greedy fools. Thus the bleating from the Vatican and the grumbling from the Alderman. The Vatican needs to update its theology in light of scientific facts (hard for them to do) and the Alderman needs to breathe and reconsider just what it is about the movie that makes him unhappy.

I, on the other hand, will continue to enjoy viewing it.

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