January 13, 2010

Avatar, The Vatican, & Sacrifice

James Cameron must be smiling on his spaceship somewhere. After all, once the Vatican starts commenting on your movie, you know you've made it to the super big time. Something tells me the Vatican had nothing to say about "Daybreakers." Yet while the Vatican leveled criticism was mostly just a standard film review, there were some interesting crumbs of information to meditate on. Take this quote from L'Osservatore, the Vatican newspaper.
"[The Film] gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature. It cleverly winks at all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium."
The Vatican can say their vaguely anti-mother earth lines, but I'm not buying them, I believe their real beef with the film is the lack of sacrifice of the characters. You see, the Vatican loves sacrifice. Jesus, after all, died for our sins on the cross. Throughout history and to this day, Catholicism stresses a hard work ethic; work now, don't worry about money on earth, the true reward is in the Kingdom of Heaven that awaits.

When you look at contemporary science fiction narratives, there are themes of self-sacrifice everywhere. The mystical Obi Wan Kenobi dies at the hand of evil only to rise and become all powerful.  Neo, the protagonist of the Matrix films sacrifices himself to the machines to save the world. In the #2 box office movie of 2009: Transformers 2, Optimus Prime bites the dust to save his fellow human homies and Autobots cronies, only to rise again as Super Optimus (buy the toy now kids) to regulate on evil.

Yet Cameron's mind melting masterpiece is curiously devoid of this theme of self sacrifice. No one gives them-self to death to save the people they love. Sigourney Weaver's character doesn't die on purpose (and she didn't like her human self anyway). The numerous Na'vi that die weren't sacrificing themselves, they just had the bad luck to be at the end of a rocket. The only real selfless act is Michele Rodriguez's character, and she was trying to fly out of the battle zone, but didn't make it in time.

The closest thing to becoming one self-sacrifice is Jake Sully leaving his human body behind to become one with God, or, uh, excuse me, Eywa (and let's be honest,  there are plenty of people who would DIE to live on Pandora as a Na'vi). Now if J. Sully had exchanged his life for the life of Na'vi and the tree of souls, I'm sure the Vatican would have been praising the film. And instead of hovering above the Universe in his spaceship made out of money, James Cameron would be kicking it in the Vatican, working on the script with his new co-writer: Pope Benedict.

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