Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A pastiche of themes in Avatar to ponder

Spoiler ALERT!

I have heard from several people recommending that I see the movie- which I had already planned to do- I believe to comment, one must have seen the source material.Forgive me if what follows contains redundancies, as I started typing and this is what emerged.

What did I think? My simple aesthetic response in review is that I thought that visually, it was what was to be expected. What was amazing to me was the poverty of the story. I saw it as utterly predictable, and a rehash of so many other movies.

There were so many layered, multiple allusions to other stories without total commitment to any of them. Elements of animism, pantheism, near eastern,and indigenous paganism emerge. One thing one must grapple with on the front end is Cameron's role in the culture as a Christ hater who actively puts resources and influence into denying the resurrection- that makes him an antichrist according to the definition of 1 John 2:22 (that's not the only definition). It is difficult to ignore this when approaching the film.

On another level, critically, I thought the movie dangerous to undiscerning minds, and that includes far too many who should know better. This was a vehicle for what has re-emerged as Gaia-theology, environment as mother goddess. But it's not that simple- animism and pantheism, which are logically similar but different drop their distinctions here and join in the fray, and the particular chunks of specific belief systems held by native Americans are layered in as well. Everybody seems to want to identify with native American pagan ritual today. The victimization of this people group by colonialists in the history of the world does not change the fact that their religion is false.

Nature worship origins go back to the fall, and are at the basis of the Babylonian Tiamat/Marduk enmity wherein a male deity imposes order on chaos. It includes the notion that all belief that will bend the knee to it has a place at its table as seen in the subsumation of Dr. Grace Augustine, the missionary/scientist of the plot. The bible attests that here are many antichrists. If indeed there is an ultimate antichrist and beast that can fool the elect, we should entertain the possibility that it won't come necessarily from Europe or the Middle East per se, but from this inferior theological point of view.

A few for instances of the looting of other stories:

Pandora. In Greek mythology was the first woman created by the gods and who released all manner of evil upon the earth out of curiosity. So what was the point of hanging this moniker on the moon-world? The negative connotations of Pandora ring true to my point of view, but not Cameron's. I think this is a key to the modus operandi- so many negative connotations of the referecned myths become reconstituted as the good the true and the beautiful here. From the viewer's POV, evil is invested with good and good is portrayed evil by an unmitigated focus on fallen aspects in this place where the hero loses the sense of which is real- the dream or reality- another theme from the spirit of the age...

Anyone who has spent any time in Muhlenberg County Kentucky will know of the evil of the rampant rape of nature by man. But this film extends the guilt of that to any stewardship of nature, inequitably, and clearly points to the US military industrial complex as being the embodiment of evil in the world. This broad brush approach is pretty stupid.

The heroine Dr. Grace Augustine who goes (as a missionary) to the NaVi to educate them eventually is saved by them as she is wounded by her own people and then subsumed in the Mother Goddess. Even as she encounters the deity she wants to "take some samples." This is a blatant attack on missions in general. This is another rejection of modernity, and constitutes a call to pre-modernity, even the primordial as an alternative.

The NaVi are a conglomeration of pantheistic and animistic belief layered on a Gaia personal Mother goddess. The NaVi have much in common with a African and Native American pagan system of belief. Indigenous paganism is the zeitgeist, and it rules in this film.

At another level this is a diatribe demonizing the American military-industrial complex. Even the VA is targeted. The Marines as bad guys? We know Cameron hates Christ, so that makes sense, I suppose.

I've heard many say this is "unlike anything you’ve ever seen before?" No way. Films that this film cherry picks-

The Matrix
Fern Gully, the Last Rainforest. The Hexxus and the Leveler come to mind when watching the movie- remember that?
Dances With Wolves
Final Fantasy I and 2
Iron Man and The Hulk closing battle sequences
Jurassic Park
Return of the Jedi-Ewok versus the Empire
Apocalypse Now
The Pocahontas myth
Features of Gilgamesh, Ishtar, and Lilith myths.

and I could go on but you get the picture.

Even the 3D effects were tiresome after a while, as was the ratatattat of the machine gun fire drumming a tattoo on one's psyche.

The NaVi take liberally from the lifeforms they share Pandora with and let them return to the mother goddess. I didn't hear any of the beasts saying "you're welcome" as they were being thanked for giving up their lives to be eaten. The NaVi see this as somehow different than the aliens who take what they want by their survival of the fittest mentality.So this turns out to be a fallen Eden after all. The idea that Er-wah "only keeps the balance of life in check" was the deistic notion that was proposed- but then it responded to the high priest Jakesully. Even the deity's name sounds a bit like Yahweh.

It is also anti-colonialist- therefore anti-American propaganda wherein the alien is demonized as destroyers of their world and out to mine another. While the US is certainly not without fault, this is an oversimplification and perversion of the role the US has played in the world.

The sky people are said to be greedy and thoughtless like undisciplined babies who have to learn the righteous way. Sully becomes a proselyte of the NaVi and then their messiah. He is initiated as a warrior by doing battle with a dragon-figure and subduing it. Sully and Neytiri mate before the mother goddess and that joins them for life.

"Sully" as a (does this evoke the recent heroism of Captain Sully) character is also “sullied”- Jacob Sully –as in the biblical deceiver Jacob who is redeemed by wrestling with the Angel of the Lord and is crippled for life.

Sully joins with and prays to the Tree of Souls as a high priest figure.

As a warrior he leads the people forward as a foil against imperialistic evil forces- the sky people. Is this an allusion to the prince of the power of the air? Sully puts on NaVi flesh and comes to them to warn them of impending doom and ends up leading the fight against the forces coming in the air to "take what they want." after the defeat of the enemy, then he retires from messiahship and fully identifies with the NaVi and spends his life with the female leader of the People. Sounds like Cameron's view of the Christ.

The nature goddess’s seeds light on Sully and “choose” him, surrounding him in light like the Holy Spirit descending as a dove. This constitutes a “sign” from the goddess.

Jake calls the tribes from the four winds as the rider on the chariot of fire- the big red bird-dragon thingy.

“I see you” is a theme that recurs frequently and culminates when Sully is seen for who he is- a frail and damaged human.

Every NaVi person is born twice- once into the world and once into the People.

The hero is a paraplegic who takes the place of his scientist brother who died- a picture of Adam and the second Adam? In this case it is the modern scientific paradigm being displace by the brave heart that is unscientific and becomes not postmodern, but is transformed into a pre-modern purity.

Jake becomes the perfect mediator as fully human fully NaVi- but far short of the Christian messiah who is God/Man. This is closer to reincarnation than regeneration.

Jake is initiated as a warrior after he becomes enlightened.

The giant tree is destroyed but it is just an image or type of the tree of souls to which the diaspora flees as they are forced from their land.

The avatars are tabernacles.

So, as I see it, such a melange of competing ideas from existing stories is subsumed by the overarching Gaia idea. That idea becomes a metaphor for a false spirituality. The interconnectedness of all of life is related to spiritual connectivity and whatever you believe can be subsumed into this conglomeration as easily as Dr. Grace Augustine was.

In biblical terms, man is to steward and build the earth- culture is built from nature.That includes cutting trees and planting them, mining the earth and conserving it. The film creates an us and them, simplistic world that belies reality.

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