Rev. Suzanne Marlatt Stewart
The visually spectacular film Avatar: The Way of Water follows Jake Sully and his companion Neytiri as they try to safeguard their new family from the Resources Development Administration (RDA), which still wants to dominate the world of Pandora. This theme reminds me of our own American history, of the white man ravaging the land of the Indians.
The second born son has a special relationship with a whale (in the film they are called “tulkun”). This optical extravaganza has an unexpected emotional core. The film uses a familiar, tried-and-true storytelling formula of the indescribable bond between a boy and his dog—or, as director James Cameron would say, a boy and his whale.
The meaning of the word Avatar in English is “incarnation (of a god).” In Sanskrit, it means “descent” or “descended from the sky”. It mainly refers to gods coming to Earth in different forms. Hindus believe that there are many planets in the universe. Hindu gods live on some of them and descend on Earth in material forms, especially to restore dharma (righteousness).
This premise of natural balance plays into the movie’s spiritual side. The Na’vi revere the natural world; believing the whole planet is connected and alive with energy. It’s akin to personifying the Earth as Mother Nature but can also feel like pieces of Native American spirituality. There are some scenes of worship, rituals, and prayer to Mother Earth. In fact, there’s a suggestion that this entity is Pandora itself: is one big, living entity. To me the film makes the point that humans, animals, plants, and rocks are all connected energetically. This is supported by one of the movie’s best bits of fantasy: a biological method in which all Pandoran plants and animals can link minds. Director Cameron was using the story device of Na’vi spiritual life to illustrate bigger points: We’re all connected by some unseen and wonderful spirit, nature is sacred, and it’s our duty as part of this system to care for the rest of creation. And hopefully, we will be able to see the majesty and splendor of that creation.
James Cameron also presents something far broader: the human failings of greed and desire. At the film’s London premiere, Cameron said, “We have this tendency to just take what we want. And that’s how we treat the natural world as well. There’s this sense of we’re here, we’re big, we’ve got guns, we’ve got the technology, therefore we’re entitled to every damn thing on this planet. That’s not how it works, and we’re going to find out the hard way if we don’t wise up and start seeking a life that’s in balance with the natural life on Earth.”
In the movie, you will often hear this greeting; the Na’Vi tribe look at each other and say, “I see you.” It doesn’t mean ordinary seeing—it’s what Namaste really means “the God in me sees the God in you.” I see Myself, in your eyes.
Rev. Suzanne, a resident of SaddleBrooke, is an independent writer and speaker. She was ordained nondenominational, representing all faiths, and her focus is “inclusivity.” You can email her at [email protected].