Many of my friends and church members have asked for my opinion about Avatar, the new James Cameron epic movie about the planet Pandora and the US military-industrial complex plot to destroy its happy culture.
I didn't like it so much.
What?! What's not to like?
For starters, I just don't get all that impressed anymore with whiz-bang special effects that cost billions of dollars to create. And I saw the movie in 3-D on one of the biggest IMAX screens in central Florida. Sure, the computer-generated effects were dazzling. But I'll take a simple story with believable, human characters over this expensive spectacle any day.
As many others have pointed out, the story just isn't all that great. I've seen the same thing many times. Greedy, hateful power-mongers armed to the hilt try to destroy a peaceful, nature-loving people and get chased away with bows and arrows. And I really didn't care all that much for any of the characters. (And the bad guys are after unobtainium? Give me a break!)
And here's another thing... I'm offended by the caricatured portrait of evil, capitalist, imperialistic America that (in my opinion anyway) is the sub-plot of Avatar. Movies have amazing power to reconstruct history. That's not Hollywood's fault, but there's little doubt that Hollywood is populated by influential people who don't care for this country or its story. I wonder which view of America is the predominant one among young people today: America as the friend of countries like earthquake-ravaged Haiti, oppressed Iraq and Afghanistan, and Holocaust-decimated Israel; or America as the evil empire that exterminated the Native Americans and bombed North Vietnam? It bothers me that people who have no problem enjoying the vast benefits of capitalism and military security turn around and lob a hateful critique at capitalism and the military. And that's what Avatar is, it seems to me.
I didn't say anything about the religion that permeates Avatar. Actually, this is the one thing I did appreciate about the movie: once again, we see that even pagan filmmakers cannot help it that their slip is showing. That is, the image of God in human beings is inescapable. It shows up in movies, art, and stories of all kinds. We instinctively know there is a God who is the source of all life and to whom we are ultimately accountable. Romans 1 says that we resist this knowledge. We try to suppress that still, small voice that whispers, "There's Something (or Someone) out there." We try to silence our conscience that tells us we are sinful. But every so often that image of God leaks out. James Cameron has invented a world in which all creation is somehow connected to a Source. It's a world in which people pray to a Being that actually intervenes in time and space. It's a world in which people die and come back to life, a world of breathtaking beauty, of loving community, of peace and justice.
Followers of Jesus know that what Avatar promises, Christianity provides.