“Avatar” in Three Dimensions -- By: L. Daniel Hawk

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 42:0 (NA 2010)
Article: “Avatar” in Three Dimensions
Author: L. Daniel Hawk


“Avatar” in Three Dimensions

L. Daniel Hawk*

The stories we tell, and the stories we embrace, reveal much about how we look at ourselves, our world, and our place in the world. Narratives encode our convictions, validate our beliefs, voice our anxieties, and assemble the events of our lives and memories into a meaningful coherence. They define us more clearly than textbooks or mission statements. This is particularly true of the grand narratives that configure the identities and perspectives of groups and peoples. And it is certainly true of the biblical narrative, which Christians appropriate to define faith and practice and to comprehend the world and God’s work within it.1

One of the narratives at the center of today’s cultural radar is the one told by James Cameron’s Avatar.2 The cinematic epic tells the story of Jake Sully, a veteran who has lost the use of his legs in an unspecified future war. Jake is recruited to participate in the Avatar Program, a venture overseen by the Resources Development Administration. The RDA has established a colony on Pandora, a heavily-forested planet located more than four light years from Earth. The military and economic interests that drive the organization seek Unobtanium, a mineral considered essential for alleviation of an energy crisis on Earth. The atmosphere on Pandora, however, is toxic to earthlings. In order to survive on Pandora, the Avatar Program has developed a way of linking human minds with bodies that genetically resemble the Na’vi, the humanoid inhabitants of the planet. Jake’s twin brother Tom, a scientist, was to link to one of the bodies but died, prompting the invitation to Jake, who is Tom’s genetic match.

Humans live and breathe on Pandora only by linking their consciousness to an avatar, while their bodies remain asleep inside a climate-controlled facility. The events that occur on Pandora change Jake’s perspectives and identity, as encounters with the Na’vi transform him from a mercenary in the service of the RDA to a Na’vi who fights for the survival of the people who have adopted him. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the earthlings will stop at nothing to drive out the Na’vi and acquire Unobtanium, and the latter part of the movie exposes their greed and savagery as they destroy Hometree, a Na’vi village, and attempt to destroy Eywa, the sacred tree that ties all life on the planet together.

The story of conquest that Avatar tells is a familiar one. In the background lie narratives of colonial conquest, and particularly the conquest of the Americas. Avatar is a vari...

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