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Avatar & the Garden of Paradise

AvatarOn New Year’s day (in the evening), my wife and I went to the theatre and saw the movie Avatar.  I wanted to see it after observing its meteoric rise in popularity (and sales), not only in the United States, but all over the world.

According to news reports, Avatar generated over a billion dollars in revenue during the first 17 days after its release, with ticket sales in the United States and Canada totaling $352.1 million and international ticket sales totaling $670.2 million.

No other film has ever reached a billion dollars in gross revenue in such a short period of time, and only 4 other films have generated over a billion dollars in total revenue: Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and The Dark Knight.

So what is it that has made Avatar one of the top 5 films of all time?  How is it that James Cameron, the writer, director, and producer of Avatar, is the only person who has ever directed two films that grossed over a billion dollars in revenue (Avatar and Titanic)?

A word of warning.  If you haven’t seen Avatar, you may not want to read the rest of this article.  In order for me to get my point across, I’m going to have to give away the ending of the movie.

Avatar is a science fiction film that is set in the year 2154.  It starts out with a former marine by the name of Jake Scully being asked to travel to Pandora, which is an earth-like moon of the planet Polyphemus.  Pandora is inhabited by the Na’vi tribe, which is made up of blue-skinned aliens that resemble humans, but are much taller and stronger, and possess cat-like tails and ears.

There are two villains in the movie: Parker Selfridge, a representative of the RDA Corporation, an American mining company that is stationed on Pandora to mine the unique and highly profitable underground mineral “unobtainium,” and Colonel Miles Quaritch, the head of a security company that has put together an army of former members of the military to protect the mining company and, if necessary, use military force to remove natives who stand in the way of mining operations.

The Na’vi village is located at a place called “Hometree” which sits on top of the largest known deposit of unobtainium on Pandora.  The mining company has hired scientists to develop “avatars” which are remote-controlled beings that are genetically engineered to look like and mimic the Na’vi.  Each avatar is modeled after an individual person and is controlled by the thoughts of that person.

Jake, (the former marine), is brought in to take control of an avatar that was designed and built from the genetic code of his twin brother who died just as his avatar was being completed.  Jake’s job is to get to know the Na’vi, gain the trust of its leaders, and then negotiate a deal where the Na’vi will move to another part of Pandora so the mining company can extract the minerals from beneath the area where their village is located.

When Jake is placed in a chamber and takes control of his avatar, his avatar travels to the Na’vi while Jake stays back at the base and controls the avatar with his mind.  He is able to experience everything that the avatar experiences. 

Jake’s avatar ends up getting lost in a jungle that is located near the home of the Na’vi and is later attacked by predators, at which point his avatar is saved by Neytiri, the daughter of the leader of the Na’vi.

Over the next three months several things happen that indicate that Jake is the “chosen one” who has been called by the mother goddess Eywa to save and eventually become the leader of the Na’vi.  The words “chosen one” are never used in the movie, but the following events lead the viewer to believe that Jake is the chosen one:

• After saving Jake’s avatar from predators, Neytiri insists that he leave and never return.  She has a change of heart when she sees several white flowery seedlings descend from the sky and land on the body of his avatar.  She interprets this as a sign from Eywa that there is something special about Jake.  She then takes his avatar to meet her parents and the other members of the tribe and is told to teach him the ways of the Na’vi.

• After Jake is unable to convince the Na’vi to move, he loses their trust.  His avatar subsequently takes control of and tames the largest flying beast on Pandora, a feat that only five previous great leaders of the Na’vi were able to accomplish, which again shows that Eywa favors Jake.

• After the mining company’s army attacks the Na’vi, Jake prays to Eywa for assistance and is told by Neytiri that Eywa is concerned about the “balance” of Pandora and will not answer his prayers by intervening in a military conflict.

• At a point where the firepower of the army is so overwhelming that it appears that the Na’vi are going to be completely wiped out, all of the beasts of the jungle join in the battle and help the Na’vi to defeat the army.  Neytiri is surprised (and pleased) that Eywa answered Jake’s prayer.

• In the end, Jake gathers with all of the natives at the sacred “Tree of Souls” and while the natives hold hands, chant, and sway in unison, Jake lays down next to his avatar and hundreds of capillaries reach out from the ground and connect to his body and to the body of his avatar.  Jake’s consciousness is then permanently transferred from his body to the avatar which causes his body to die and his avatar to come to life as a true Na’vi.

James Cameron did a masterful job of weaving together a story that would be appealing to millions of viewers worldwide.  To me, the film was a high-tech version of the old Tarzan movies, with spiritual and environmental themes woven into the story.  It had all of the ingredients for success – a compelling story, good character development, great actors, and great villains.

It’s the spiritual and environmental themes in the movie that have generated the most criticism from Christians and conservatives.  Some have criticized Cameron’s demonization of the “American Military”; however, from my point of view, his use of the mining corporation and the military as villains in the movie was a stroke of genius, which made the movie attractive to millions of foreigners who despise and/or hate not only the American military, but also American corporations.  Consider this: Over two-thirds of the billion dollars in revenue that has been generated came from ticket sales in other countries.  One report stated that Avatar is the most successful movie to ever play in Russia.  In France, there is only one American made movie that generated more revenue than Avatar and that was the movie Titanic (another Cameron movie).

In my opinion, it’s what Jake was ultimately able to accomplish that made the movie one of the most popular films of all time.  He did what the real chosen one, Jesus Christ, was unwilling to do, and that was to establish something that every sane human being has longed for – an earthly kingdom of peace, harmony, and balance. 

There is still a belief among a majority of the earth’s inhabitants that a “paradise” or “kingdom” on earth can be created my man.  While we can delude ourselves into thinking that this is achievable, as Catholics we believe that there is only one path to eternal happiness and that is through Jesus Christ.  We are “hard-wired” to desire and seek out the garden of paradise that was lost when Adam and Eve sinned.  I think Cameron knows this and used it as a way to draw people into the theatres for a taste of what it would be like to overcome their own struggles and be rewarded with paradise on earth.

There is only one Kingdom that offers true peace and harmony – an eternal paradise that is within our grasp if we choose to follow the teachings of Christ and His Church.  I’m going to continue to play it safe and stick to the teachings of the Catholic Church to provide me with the guidance and direction I need to enter into the Kingdom of God, rather than follow the teachings of modern-day “spiritual leaders.”  We must, on a daily basis, continue to choose the path that Jesus Christ provided for us.  Join me in choosing this path and I’ll see you in the garden of paradise.

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