Recently I watched James Cameron’s Avatar for the first time. It reminded me how powerful the medium of film is when constructed well, and Avatar is sublime in its construction.
The film describes a futuristic form of colonialism in which humans rampage over a planet seeking out its minerals. It is a story as old as history. Cameron’s cleverness comes from weaving into his gripping tale themes of ecology, personal responsibility, social responsibility towards native peoples and, most cleverly of all, a pantheistic theology. Pantheism, broadly, states that God is in, not over creation.
The native Na’vi people in Avatar were atune with their god of creation. The humans depended on their power, weapons and were driven by greed in contrast to the ecological altruism of the Na’vi.
Even I found myself cheering for the nature loving/believing Na’vi people. And that is where the cleverness lies – in its ability to position us as viewers the way the director intended. Often, without us even being aware.
I put aside my Christian worldview, I checked my cynicism about stereotypes, I was fooled by the mystical romance – and the film took me on a journey along a path that I would not normally travel.
There are good messages in this film and we should heed them. But the film says far more about how Cameron believes the world works. The gospel narrative was missing. There was sin and brokenness but this could be dealt with by being atune with nature. There was no Saviour outside our own wits and ability and a creation god who took the side of the good guys and gals.
I suppose my question is: How often does Hollywood fool us to give ourselves over to the directors’ worldviews? Think of the romance where the man is justified in ditching his wife for a woman who understands him. The violins play and we are happy that he has found his deserved soul mate. Think of when we have laughed because the clever, witty and suave crook has outwitted the clueless police.
Avatar reminded me again, that when I watch a film every neuron I have needs to be on full alert because the director, once again, wants to trick me.
How tricky the arts can be. They move the heart, but Christianity is more than heart, it involves theology and the mind.