I was reading a blog about Avatar relating to theology and popular culture, so I thought I’d resurrect my comments on Avatar that I made on the old blog and post them here, as Avatar is still so popular. So, here goes:
Avatar struck me as having theological relevance in two different ways. Firstly, it reflects or resembles themes of Christianity (or the Bible), and, secondly, it portrays a spiritual quest on a deeper level for something beyond this life. The name itself, Avatar, is a Hindu term for the descending of the deity into the world. On another linguistic note, is it not relevant that Na’vi – the name of the indigenous people – is the biblical Hebrew for prophet?
The film appears to be based on the confidence man has in his own knowledge, power, and ability. It reflects the assumption that humanity is the top rung of the ladder of evolution, as it were. Only a few characters admit that man (or any beings) might need more than what he thinks he knows. The Na’vi are portrayed as savages, a stark reminder of the many times powerful countries have invaded other countries and termed the indigenous peoples savages, thus supposedly giving them the right to fight and kill them, and take the land for themselves. However, the four that accept that the Na’vi are not savages, and, in fact, know a great deal more about the land and its supernatural elements than the human invaders, come to respect and even love the Na’vi. The Na’vi are shown to have a spiritual life which far surpasses that of the humans, who have all but rejected religion and spirituality in supposing it to be irrelevant to ‘knowledge’. This is shown not to be so, as the tree has the utmost power over life, and has far greater power than the humans.
The emphasis on the tree in the film parallels the emphasis on the tree in Genesis – though whereas Adam and Eve are forbidden from connecting with the tree of knowledge of good and evil, from eating its fruit, the Na’vi literally plug themselves into their tree. This allows a visual and physical connection with their deity.
Whilst I was having these thoughts, someone I discussed them with had linked the battle at the end of the film with C.S. Lewis’ last battle in Narnia. He couldn’t decide, however, who the Aslan figure was – though I think it is most likely to be the Toruk, the red dragon-type creature. It is perhaps significant that he appears twice in the film. The first time he appears as a terrifying threat to the avatars, but the second coming is as saviour, ridden by Jake, to fight against the human attack. The other possibility of course is that Jake is the Aslan figure, and this possibility could be supported by the meaning of the word ‘avatar’.
Thus the film Avatar shows how misguided humanity is when it rejects all forms of spirituality and acts in an anthropocentric manner. The only hope for salvation is to integrate into the indigenous population, adopt their customs and deities, and only then might there be hope for humanity in that alien land. It teaches respect for forms of spirituality unknown, and for forms of life also unknown or misunderstood. It portrays man’s vulnerability in the face of nature, and his strong desire for something beyond quotidian life, whatever that may be.
There is a lot more that could be said about Avatar and theology or religion, on issues such as ecology, stewardship and more, but I’ll leave that for another day. Maybe I’ll get round to writing something about beauty and natural theology in Avatar at some point.