Sunday, January 17, 2010


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.


Matthaeus Flexibilis said...


I thought it was a good ride, albeit not a theologically sound or unpredictable one (see this amusing comparison). I can forgive the one-sided portrayal of evil capitalists (for there are such evil capitalists out there) and we Americans did in fact perpetrate great harm on the Native American population (not that they didn't do there share too, but we went above and beyond).

I found it interesting that both of the conservative op-ed writers for the NYT used one of their columns on it: David Brooks, who reviews it as a white man's guilt trip, and Douthat, who analyzes the religious theme (footnotes and follow-ups here, here, and here).

Here's one review from an economic conservative that suggests everyone else got the undertones backwards, and perhaps most interesting is this article on the artificial language they created for the film.

PaulF said...

First of all, David brooks isn't a conservative.
Second, I probably won't see the movie for the reason you originally gave, Mike: The story doesn't sound so interesting to me and I'm also getting bored by the special effects.
Third, too many people are way to wowed by it. I find better luck by going against common wisdom.
But that's just me.

I repeat - David Brooks is no conservative.

Matthaeus Flexibilis said...


I'd guess you probably wouldn't like it. Stay away! (But if you do decide to see it, it's best seen on the big screen rather than at home. It was intended to be seen in 3-D, but it wasn't filmed in true IMAX, so I'd skip that unless you just prefer huge screens.)

Re Brooks, I'd suggest that there are several types of conservatives and that Brooks is a conservative in the conservative intellectual tradition of Burke and Hamilton, but not that of Hannity or Beck. Also compared to Maureen Dowd, everyone is a conservative.

Mike said...

Here's an interesting take on Avatar from John Piper:

PaulF said...

Hahaha.... Good one Mike. It's funny what's boring to me now as opposed to 6 years ago.

Anna said...

Did you know people are experiencing depression after seeing Avatar?

Mike said...

Yes, I had read that article. That's a bit of a stretch I think!

Linda Barolet said...

I have to say the movie Avatar was a bit of a let down. Everyone was ranting and raving about it but all I could see is as a movie, with great affects I would have to admit, but steeped in anti- military, love nature (pantheism) and save the world same old same old. Yes, I have to agree with Mike it does without a doubt show man's hunger to worship and in this case a "tree" and past ancestors. It had a taste of Indian folklore and Pantheistic worship. Kind of a let down for me.