Joining the throngs of others, my family made our way to see “Avatar: The Way of Water” over the recent holiday break. In just two weeks time, the movie grossed over $1 billion in global ticket sales, an apparent, coveted, box office milestone.
With Hollywood taking a hit in recent years, reportedly losing more than $500 billion in market value in 2022 for no doubt a myriad of reasons (i.e. inflation, consumers cutting down on non-essentials, the post-pandemic era, politicization, too much perceived celebrity sanctimony, etc.), only two other films matched the billion-dollar mark: “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World Dominion.” Granted, Tom Cruise’s sequel took 31 days to do so; the dinosaur feature took more than four months. Suffice it to say that “Avatar” stands out in an otherwise rough year for the movie industry.
Trust me: this post is not a review nor are any spoilers included; it more has me thinking on a bigger point. Allow us to first establish some context.
“Avatar” is a fascinating film. It’s storyline is creatively familiar, with director/screenplay co-writer James Cameron posing the same underlying question as he did in his “Terminator” cinematic series. As posed by RogerEbert.com’s reviewers, “Fight or flight for family? Do you run and hide from the powerful enemy to try and stay safe or turn and fight the oppressive evil?” That is the zillion dollar (or at least billion in this case) question.
What’s most fascinating about this movie, however, is the filmmaking. The visual effects technology is captivating. With much of this movie taking place on and in the water, the mixing of live-action and computer generated imagery (CGI) — actually utilizing 60% CGI — is truly something to see. But alas, this is not a review. The movie made me think of something more.
On the film’s fictional planet of Pandora, there is a deep spiritual acknowledgement. The planet’s inhabitants worship Eywa, described by Avatar Wiki as: “the All-Mother or Great Mother… the biological sentient guiding force of life and deity of Pandora and the Na’vi” (Na’vi equates to the indigenous inhabitants). More concisely put, Eywa is a sort of environmental goddess. She is said to reside in certain plants and trees, which are thus sacred, and the Na’vi return to her upon their death.
As said, I enjoyed the movie. As also noted, it’s fiction. While we can learn much from fiction, by definition, it’s also invented and untrue.
But it prompted me to ask a deeper question: Where are those pockets and places in life, that because we enjoy and revere something so much, that we begin to idolize it? … that maybe, just maybe, we being to almost worship?
Let’s make the point a little more poignant. Where is it that we begin to worship what was created as opposed to who actually created it? .. that maybe, just maybe, what is so beautiful and artistic gets in the way of being in awe of the ultimate artist?
The environment is an excellent example of such — and maybe why it’s an easy inclusion in “Avatar.” The environment has places of simply stunning beauty… those spacious skies, waves of grain and sweet, purple mountain majesties and that’s just in this country. I thus asked my long-time, sagacious, photographer friend, Mark, how he has wrestled with such. Insightfully, Mark shares the following:
“As a landscape photographer, I am constantly searching for and finding extraordinary beauty in nature. I find it in mountains, rivers, waterfalls, coastlines, flowers, trees — seemingly wherever I look. It exists in large scale and in the smallest delicate form. As a Christian, I see the beauty as created by the hand of a masterful artist, a benevolent Creator. Thus, it is the subject of my appreciation, not the object. It frequently fills me with a sense of grandeur, awe and humility in knowing regardless of how well I may capture a portion of what I see through the lens, it will never match the raw beauty and power of what I see before me.”
So good. So true.
Creation is no doubt awe-inspiring and beautiful. But as Mark reminds us, “to worship the created, the finite, binds and minimizes the infinite power of the Creator.”
That has me thinking even more.