Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #18

Re: Avatar and the Meaning of Life

I read your review of Avatar and the mail you have received on the subject. I have seen the movie several times now and each time I come away with something new. I am a very devout Catholic with a love for history and mythology. I see Avatar as a fairytale for today. I didn’t have a problem with the Na’vi’s religious beliefs. It is set in a different world, etc. What struck me was the differences between the humans and the Na’vi. Apparently, the humans are very secular in outlook, either greedy or very scientific. They don’t “see” that there is something more to the planet than the “unobtainium.”

I thought it was a refreshing movie. How many sci-fi movies acknowledge anything other than science and technology? It is one of the few movies that shows a deity saving the day. Am I the only Catholic out there that sees this stuff? I feel kinda lonesome since I actually like the movie (seen it now seven times) and almost every Catholic I see on the Internet, etc., doesn’t like it.

Also, about the whole post-Avatar depression thing. I can guarantee you that there are very few that are experiencing it. It is mostly because those people were depressed already. I have seen an opposite reaction. There are very good and intensive discussions about what is means to live in this society on the Avatar boards. I frequent them. I believe that that story about depression was taken out of context because some silly reporter couldn’t find a real story. Anyway, this is just my two cents. Let me know what you think.

I think much the same as you on several points. You make a good point that the human conquistadors are very secular in outlook; this is one of the things that saves the film from being anti-religious. Too many noble-savage movies pit enlightened native “spirituality” against corrupt organized/Western/institutional religion, i.e., Christianity and especially Catholicism. Avatar doesn’t do this. Instead, it pits the worst kind of utilitarian, secular self-interest against a quasi-Edenic ideal of harmony with other selves, with the world, with the divine.

The nature of that divine remains a sticking point, I think. I can’t entirely embrace the idea of “a deity saving the day” when that deity is a planetary goddess-spirit somehow comprising all living creatures on her planet. The example of Lewis’s planetary guardian spirits (oyeresu), a class of angels, gets me part of the way there, but the relationship between Eywa and her planet’s creatures has overtones of pantheism, or heno-pantheism, or something.

That doesn’t stop me from enjoying the movie. In the first place, it’s a sci-fi fantasy; in the second place, I can’t say that God couldn’t create a world like Pandora if he wanted to. Still, the resonances with real-life sub-Christian religion remain an issue that Christians should be aware of.

Hm, is it that uncommon for sci-fi movies to have a spiritual side? 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Contact and Serenity come to mind. But since all of my examples come from different decades you may be right. Of course, many sci-fi films are overtly moralistic. And on the small screen there’s been “Battlestar Galactica” and “Babylon 5,” among other things.

And yeah, I also suspect that “post-Avatar blues” is a fringe phenomenon that makes for an eye-grabbing headline, but doesn’t describe the vast majority of people who saw the film. Like I said, it’s a big obvious thing for people to hitch their wagons to. Without Avatar, those people would probably still be just as unhappy, but we wouldn’t have read about them on

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