This weekend my husband and I went to go see the movie Avatar. Neither of us had high expectations, other than that it was to be a virtual feast (literally) of cinematic tricks. On that expectation it delivered far beyond what I could have imagined; the world of Pandora was absolutely breathtaking. I distinctly recognized a feeling of delightfulness and awe very similar to the one I remembered feeling when watching The Neverending Story as a child. (Remember that scene where Bastian is riding through the sky on Falcor?) And yes, I realize this only proves what many of us heard on NPR- that Avatar is a conglomerate of pieces from stories and movies we’ve heard before- but what isn’t? The genius of the movie is that Cameron combines these elements in such compelling fashion.
This morning I saw this article reporting that some people have suffered depression after watching the movie. As it turns out, Pandora is a compelling place to want to move, and the fact that it cannot be accessed in reality has created tension and depression for people who feel discontent with the life they do have. Of course, in the article (and in the subsequent Tweets and FB posts about it) this is spoken of in such a way as to be considered either ludicrous or silly. I’m not convinced.
I could probably write a number of posts about my theological musings during this movie (and yes, I am geeky enough to watch movies and dissect them theologically, all the time, ad nauseum). The story of a struggle to find one’s rightful identity, even when it’s among people who could not be more foreign to you, sounds rather akin to Epiphany, for starters. It’s always shocking to find your home somewhere that seems so very far from where you came- and to risk so much to travel there without knowing how it will turn out.
Part of what those people in the movie theater experienced was tension with parts of the world they didn’t want to be part of anymore. And though none of them were specific, I’d guess the list would be things like greed and imperialism and a total lack of humility. Why would it ever be bad to feel a deep, almost depressing desire to move away from that and toward something more life-giving? Isn’t this why each of us has taken up the path of faith? Isn’t this what “conversion” means- to turn from one way of life towards another way of life?
Granted, I don’t find the idea of running away from the reality of our world helpful. I don’t think playing hours of the Avatar video game is going to do anything helpful for anyone. And I certainly refuse to say that this world, despite its flaws, is beyond changing. If we feel that tension, it is our responsibility to resolve it not by walking away but by engaging and pushing and trying. But I want to affirm that these inclinations, this desire for a better kind of world, even and maybe because it looks so different from the one in which we live, sounds a lot like the quest for that place where the Realm of God is made complete among us. It sounds like the first step in conversion, where it dawns on you that a better way is possible, and you may not be currently walking that better way, and you may be ready to start trying. I wouldn’t want to relieve that tension for anyone. That’s holy tension, and without it, the world would never change.
The idea of a place where we seek to live as those connected with God and with all that God has created is not exactly a new idea, James Cameron. But thank you for igniting our imaginations with strange, tall, blue people who remind us that it’s beautiful enough and compelling enough to actually try to make real.