Emerson and Avatar
As part of our promise to furnish ample coverage of films in our online Culture section, here is a new review of the blockbuster "Avatar," from a slightly different perspective. Michael V. Tueth, S.J., of the Fordham University's Communication and Media Studies department admits he is no great technophile, nor is he a professional theologian. But he loves movies, knows a great deal about them, and loved "Avatar." In fact, it took him 25 minutes to "calm down" after the film. And he disagrees--politely--with the Vatican's (or at least L'Osservatore Romano's) partial condemnation of the film:
Such is the current cultural prominence of “Avatar” that even the Vatican has weighed in with observations. Gaetano Vallini, a film reviewer for the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, praised the film’s “stupefying, enchanting technology.” However, he termed the screenplay unoriginal and “standardized” and felt that the film’s sentimentality diverts viewers from “more thoughtful observations on militarism, imperialism, and environmentalism.” What has drawn considerably more attention is his comment that the film “gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature.”
But, in my opinion, the religious beliefs and practices of the Nav’i are not genuinely pantheistic; they are closer to the Transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau, and their Catholic contemporary, Orestes Brownson, who saw nature as a powerful link to the divine—for Emerson that would be the Christian God; for the Nav’i, it is the compassionate Mother Goddess, Eywa, to whom they pray for victory, for healing and even for resuscitation from death.
James Martin, SJ