It's only been a couple days since I did my post on "Peace and Ecology." In it I added my take on the film "Avatar." Since then I’ve found ample stories on the Vatican and the political right being critical of the film. I suppose my comments were timely. It bothers me a little though that the media seems to be trying to portray the Vatican as being narrow-minded. If anything the pope’s New Year’s address on peacemaking through protecting the environment should prove otherwise.
Concerning “Avatar” I mentioned briefly in a paragraph what stood out to me in relation to my overall post, and really I'm no film critic but several things appeared clear to me. In my view of the film I mentioned that it seemed to convey a message of opposition to exploitation, though it’s not developed well. The film also clearly has an underlying philosophy of pantheism and neo-paganism, which are not compatible with Christianity. Add to that the portrayal of the worst militaristic and capitalistic stereotypes imaginable, which are abundant and not easy to find likeable, and you end up with an overall poor view of humanity. I'll repeat what I actually said, though if you scroll down the page to the January 11 post you can read it in context:
…as a society we tend to listen closely to what film and other media presents. Undoubtedly "Avatar" expresses a strong theme of respect for nature, but it also has a strong underlying theme of pantheism and neo-paganism based on nature worship. While I believe the film presents a good message on the importance of being opposed to environmental exploitation, it unfortunately plays too heavily on militaristic stereotypes, demonizes humanity, and is rather pessimistic concerning the future of the human race overall. In the end it comes off as little more than an epic sci-fi tale of cowboys and Indians.
Now, I must add that I actually enjoyed the movie quite a bit. In terms of exciting action it had me hanging on the edge of my seat for better than two thirds of the film. However, I agree with much of what I've read about a lack of depth, though depth is not what gets movie goers out. We live in a world where depth more often confuses people and they would rather get the simple version. Frankly, film provides an excellent escape. It has value often just in its ability to entertain and offer a momentary step back from the events of the week.
So “Avatar” doesn’t disappoint. It has entertainment value. It also expresses a simplistic view, one that has roused strong sentiment on both the political left and the right. I find it interesting that those who can have their political feathers ruffled on either side don't actually need a lot of depth to get them going. Rather, they seem to thrive on the more shallow expressions of real issues and the accompanying implications.
I would have personally preferred that the film went into greater depth in making an anti-war message clear. It could have done better to explore the real need for true environmental activism. It could have better explored the detrimental effects of unchecked capitalism. It might have even gotten into a deeper exploration of the existential dilemmas of the characters. However, it only had three hours for all of this and in some ways it did a good job of at least touching on these subjects.
I found it interesting that the folks at beliefnet.com seem to be not too concerned with the heterodox challenges of pantheism or neo-paganism, rather they seem to feel that the obvious fictions of the science fiction presents a bigger challenge:
But while it's a given that the media outlets of the Catholic Church will, and should, take a particular theological stance on any bit of pop culture that may get reviewed in their pages or on their airwaves, I can't help but think, "Really? Neo-pagan nature worship is a real sticking point here?" What about the fact that human bodies no longer hold special significance, that human consciousness can be transferred into genetically-crafted empty vessels, Na'vi avatars, manufactured through a means of asexual, gene-manipulated reproduction, "matured" on a spacecraft and then decanted? And that's just one example. To worry about pantheism, and that a 3-D movie might inspire a little too much tree-hugging, just seems so antiquated, so very early Church, especially in a world full of poverty, war, and challenging scientific questions.
Actually, when it comes to a world of poverty, war, and challenging scientific questions, I don’t believe the Catholic Church has been silent. Clearly the Church has great concern with such issues and does so in a way that transcends the polemics of political ideology.