The Religion beneath the Movie
We killed our mother. According to Pandora inhabitants, the Na'vi, by 2154 A.D., we, earthlings, would have killed the womb which gives life to our species. We have killed the trees, forests, animals, mountains, rivers, winds and seas. We have upset the natural balance of earth, air, water and fire and that it is why our "planet was dying", as the Na'vi would see it. Yet, in 2154, man repeats the sour experience in outer space. "Man" invades Pandora, a moon belonging to the Alpha Centauri star system, for the mining of a rare metal, Unobtainium (Un-obtain-ium!), and does not hesitate to kill the inhabitants of that planet, to dig the metal from underneath their homes and sacred places, in the pursuit of corporate profits. Sounds too familiar: reminding you of the scene of international politics? James Cameron's Avatar shows you the extrapolation on an interstellar scale.
The religion of Pandorans may seem bizarre to you at a first glance. But on a second look, you will probably realize that it is not that different from the original spiritual beliefs of Native Americans. Those beliefs, truth be said, could ultimately have the cure for our predicament.
What is a religion anyway?
Ancient clans established a set of laws, beliefs and acceptable individual behaviors to ensure the survival of the clan. These moral laws were carefully woven with mystical aspects, combing life, death, disease and natural phenomena together with sacred rituals and mythical stories of the ancestors -- giving birth to ancient "religions."
Social evolution, in turn, ensured that only the viable "religions" would survive. "Good" and "Evil" was defined on the basis of what would enhance or degrade survival of the "group". As clans developed into tribes, nations and states, the group became bigger as to encompass the entire "people" within a social system until such the time came when old religions had to be modernized to cope with globalization and acquire, or pretend to possess, a universal tone to their teachings, which promoted equality, peace and harmony with others. The old religions, however, have failed to meet the ultimate challenge before man as human colonization of the planet and the associated advancement in technology and unchecked economic growth went beyond healthy conditions required for human sustainability on the planet.
James Cameron's Avatar, the movie, now may be offering us a bit more than two-and-a-half hours of sheer entertainment. Avatar, the second largest grossing movie in history, with over 1.3 billion dollars in box office to-date, may be opening our eyes to new ways of modernizing our religions, to ensure that man will voluntarily give up excessive consumption, greed and convenience, not in exchange for a seat in "Heaven's Express," but to reach one's inner peace while improving the chances for our children and future generations of being able to sustain life on planet Earth.
I always say that man is not a threat to nature at all. Nothing that man can do will have any significant impact on nature. The danger, however, is that man, with unchecked growth and "babyish" behavior, can and have sadly managed to upset the delicate balance required for man's own survival on Earth. The Earth is 4.5 billion years old and is likely to exist for many more millions of years to come. Man is not a danger to Earth. Man is a danger to the balance which can allow for man's existence on Earth. CNN reported a post-Avatar depression syndrome experienced by some audience after seeing the movie "because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora." On these forums, fans express their disgust with the relatively non-idyllic planet Earth and the human race. But the truth is, the Earth is still so beautiful beyond anything rendered by virtual reality. We can still enjoy that very real beauty on Earth if we choose to live our lives differently, by maintaining this beauty and becoming one with the splendor of the natural balance that has allowed us to exist and evolve.
What if this is how we should now define good and evil? In how one action enhances or degrades the balance of all living things, including humans, animals, trees, forests, mountains, rivers, winds, seas and beyond? Once, some two thousand years ago, man had reached that sophisticated spiritual connection with the universe. In Hermetic teachings and "pagan" religions, the ancestors had developed such a holistic view of man in relation to nature and the universe. That is why they had animal deities and gods representing rivers, wind, sea, fertility, sun and moon. The true core of their spirituality became misunderstood as we accused them with the worship of stone idols.
Maybe this is what it takes, new religious beliefs to convince Man to take charge of his own destiny from the hands of the "machines", the "superstructures"; giant corporations, states, alliances and power structures, controlling man's life and driving mankind to ill-fated extinction.
The Vatican slammed Avatar in belittling comments and reviews. Pope Benedict often speaks of the dangers of turning nature into a "new divinity" and neo-paganism. But movies like Avatar may be just what it takes for us to develop a true understanding of the coming man-induced doom's day.
Blockbuster movies, games, songs and best-selling books: maybe these are the new scripture. Crafted by the same machine of corporate capitalism which is destroying the Earth, Avatar has pushed the limits of technology to deliver the new gospel in stunning 3D IMAX temples near you.
Avatar reminds you of Dances with Wolves, where First Lieutenant John J. Dunbar, a white American Soldier identifies with a group of "Lakota", a native American tribe and fights along their side defending Red Indian ideals against his own white people.
Just like in natural evolution, it took quite a few landmark movies to arrive to Avatar, which now stands in a class of its own, possibly as one of the best movies, if not "the best" movie, ever produced. The Wachowski Brothers' The Matrix introduced the Avatar concept where one human being "drives" another parallel existence, a machine or a virtual human life in the "machine world". In addition to The Matrix, Avatar's genetic DNA may show lineage to Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, Disney's Monsters Inc., Tarzan, Pocahontas, Lion King and Mulan. Also, James Cameron's own movies Aliens and Terminator, to Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and even Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain.
In this amazing production, however, James Cameron, also the director of Titanic, the biggest grossing movie of all time, gives us something totally unique and inspiring in Avatar. Creating the Pandora universe with such captivating beauty, natural surprises, amazing physics; stunning detail and even a well-developed local language and religious beliefs, goes far beyond excellence in film-making. In addition to claiming 10 or more Academy Awards soon, Avatar, I suspect, will become a religion in its own right, both in the cinematic sense amongst fans as well as in the spiritual sense amongst environmentalists. And this may be just what we need right now.