Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review of Avatar

I wrote this review of the movie Avatar for Gatheringforces.org. It deals with the political implications of the movie in terms of anti-colonial struggle, racism, dissent in the military, and ecological politics.

Tucked away inside the review is a discussion of the religious themes in the movie. I argue that the film contrasts the dualism of colonial scientist Grace Augustine with the spirituality of the Navi'i, the indigenous people of the planet Pandora. Their spirituality integrates idealism and materialism in a dialectical process; Augustine's mental and social location as a colonial scientist prevents her from understanding this.

I am reposting that part here in the hope of further discussing these themes.


At the same time, [Grace] Augustine is right, the Navi’i do not practice a “primitive” mysticism. Eywa is not a disembodied Spirit. The Navi are not idealists, in fact they fully integrate spirit and matter, idealism and materialism, in a way that only the most utopian libertarian Marxists and anarchists have dreamed up. They do not worship a God who stands outside of and dominates the natural world, nor do they merge into a pantheistic Oneness, a “night in which all cows are Black” as Hegel put it. Their worship involves merging their consciousness with the world around them through creative praxis: though a mix of contemplation and action. It is almost like all of them become Jesus figures: fully God and fully human(oid), they are in touch with universal truth in and through the concrete, particular, embodied reality they live in. This allows them to co-develop/ co-evolve with the natural world and that’s why they are able to develop such a sophisticated system of biologically-based technology. To extend the theological echoes here, I wonder if the choice of Grace Augustine’s name was intentional. For her, like for St. Augustine, grace and spirit come down from above to control disobedient bodies; for the Navi’i who defy her liberal racist science, there is no separation between spirit and matter.