Characterizing Cameron’s Eywa

Environmentalism as Engaged via Religious Naturalism and Supernatural Interventionism in Avatar

Katelynn E. Carver, University of St Andrews

Abstract: Media-based representations of social and moral orientations and mores can provide significant insight into popular conceptualizations of pressing social issues. By “taking the pulse” of a generalized populace via the media that populace chooses to endorse and consume, motivations and ethical commitments can often be revealed implicitly with greater clarity than explicit self-report measures are able to provide, accounting for subject biases and other inconsistencies. Thus, this articles considers how the financial and popular success of James Cameron’s Avatar can provide a functional ingress to considering how modern society engages—both intellectually and practically—the theatrical call to environmental awareness that is clear within the film, specifically alongside the ideas of religious commitment, conceptualizations of the Divine, and both personal and cosmic agency. In fleshing out this dialogue, this article specifically applies religious naturalism and process relational philosophy to frame and contextualize the discussion.


Copyright Thea Boodhoo

Depicting an alien race of beings capable of connecting with their natural world and the deity they believe to preserve it, James Cameron’s Avatar1 has been largely interpreted by critics as promoting some iteration of religious naturalism. Both official and unofficial statements from the Vatican have characterized the film as pantheistic, describing a scenario in which “nature is no longer a Creation to be defended, but a divinity to be adored, while transcendence is emptied by incarnating itself in a plant and in its white vines which nourish spirits” (Decent Film Guide, 2013). Characterized by other commentators as endorsing a “form of nature religion” and aligning with “‘eco-theologies’ in which humanity and nature are seen in dynamic interaction,” many of the key elements of Na’vi culture and beliefs do appear congruent with at least some of the myriad understandings of religious naturalism (Jeserich, 2010; McGowan, 2010). This appearance, however, is misleading.

Jerome A. Stone (2008) distinguishes naturalism, “a set of beliefs and attitudes that focuses on this world” instead of something above or beyond it, from religious naturalism, which is a particular kind of naturalism that “affirms a set of beliefs and attitudes that there are religious aspects of this world which can be appreciated within a naturalistic framework. This naturalistic framework, according to David Ray Griffin (2002), hinges on the “great truth” of being nonsupernaturalistic, where supernaturalism is defined as “the doctrine that there is a supernatural being who, existing outside the otherwise universal web of cause-effect relations, can violate it.” Considering that the film’s portrayals of popular naturalistic inclinations—respect for nature, peaceful coexistence with the natural world, the emphasis on a group of scientific researchers studying the global network of quantifiable pseudo-neuronal connections between the planet, its people, and their deity—are consistently intertwined with spiritual overtones, it is understandable that Avatar has been widely interpreted as an homage to a religiously naturalistic worldview. Alongside these motifs, however, is a consistent contradiction of the central tenet of naturalism—nonsupernaturalism—as evidenced in the portrayal of the Na’vi’s deity, Eywa, as willful, persuadable, interventionist, possessing supernatural healing powers, potentially able to sustain a degree of subjective immortality for the mortal Na’vi, and existing within a presumably nonphysical realm. Thus, despite the seemingly naturalistic presentation of a deity that can be likened to a planetary neural network and an overarching theme of reverence for the natural world, the characteristics of Eywa as observed and implied within the film do not sufficiently avoid the supernatural as to justify compatibility with religious naturalism 2. In light of this ultimate deviation from a defensible model of religious naturalism, the following investigation will outline the initial presentation of Avatar as consistent with many of the overarching themes of religious naturalism, particularly the religious naturalisms espoused by David Ray Griffin and Ursula Goodenough, followed by a discussion of the plot elements that contradict Griffin’s “great truth” and disassociate the storyline from naturalism at large, and thus by extension, from religious naturalism specifically. Finally, potential reasons for this approach—developing a fairly robust religious naturalism only to negate it at a fundamental level with the inclusion of supernaturalism—will be identified, and the resultant implications of the final presentation of the film will be discussed.

Initial Presentation as Naturalism

IMG_1869As stated above, Avatar does not suffer from a total lack of alignment with a religiously-naturalistic worldview. The world of Pandora and its people, the Na’vi, initially present as being inclined toward religious naturalism, and are represented as “not [seeing] themselves as separate from nature, but rather an integral part of it” (Wilhelm and Mathison, 2009). Their connection to their environment is indeed biological, given their capacity to “link” to other living creatures, as well as to their planet, via tail-like bundles of neural tendrils known as queues (Wilhelm and Mathison, 2009). As Grace Augustine, one of the scientists studying Pandora, states:

I’m not talking about some kind of pagan voodoo, here. I’m talking about something real, something measurable in the biology of the forest…There is some kind of electrochemical communication between the roots of the trees, like the synapses between neurons…It’s more connections than the human brain…It’s a network, a global network and the Na’vi can access it, they can upload and download data, memories (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010).

In these ways, among others, Avatar sets itself up to be associated with religious naturalism, and if a viewer focuses only on these points, they would be justified in their estimation. Because so much of the public discourse surrounding Avatar is oriented toward this focus, it is important to identify its successful portrayals of religious naturalism before delving into the ways in which Avatar incorporates too many elements of supernatural theism to be considered religiously naturalistic.

To this end, David Ray Griffin’s concept of naturalism—embracing panentheism, prehension, and panexperientialism—proves useful as a framework for understanding how Avatar does successfully present elements of religious naturalism (Griffin, 2002). With regard to panentheism, the beliefs of the Na’vi are by no means atheistic, and are instead oriented around the Gaia-like deity Eywa who is postulated to be “an emergent property of the ecosystem” (Kanda and Wagner, 2010). This goddess is described as being “made up of all living things, everything [the Na’vi] know,” thus coinciding with the panentheistic component of Griffin’s model (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). Within this panentheistic understanding, the respect and care with which the Na’vi interact with the natural world coincide specifically with the religious principles identified by Ursula Goodenough (1998) as emerging from the naturalistic epic of evolution. Neytiri, the daughter of the leaders of the Omaticaya clan in the film, exhibits visible reverence for the water she drinks off the leaves of a plant, gesturing in what appears to be gratitude (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). This display amidst the paradisiacal bounty of Pandora coincides with Goodenough’s principle of gratitude: hosannah here and now, rather than removed from the natural world at hand (Goodenough, 1998). It is likewise revealing to consider the way in which the Na’vi react to killing animals and thereby negotiate their hunting practices. Neytiri is visibly disturbed and saddened at the loss of animal life necessary to save Jake Sully, the human marine who links with an Avatar body, when he is first stranded on Pandora after nightfall. When Jake thanks Neytiri for killing the predators that threatened him, she censures him: “You don’t thank for this. This is sad, very sad only” (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). When Na’vi hunters make a kill, they end the suffering of their wounded quarry as swiftly as possible while conveying their gratitude: “I See you, Brother, and thank you. Your spirit goes with Eywa, your body stays behind to become part of the People” (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). Reflecting Goodenough’s principle of reverence, the Na’vi exhibit a belief in the sacredness of all life that aligns with religious naturalism (Goodenough, 1998).

Second, Griffin’s concept of prehension, or the capacity for nonsensory perception, is conveyed by the film in multiple ways (Griffin, 2002). The traditional greeting between members of the Omaticaya clan translates as “I See you,” which indicates an insight beyond visual perception, a seeing into another person that is cultivated internally, largely unquantifiable via external means, and unteachable in a classical sense, as Neytiri indicates to Jake when he asks to be shown how to See as he would be shown how to shoot a bow: “No one can teach you to See” (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). The idea of Seeing is associated in the film not only with interpersonal respect but with reverence for the connectivity of life on Pandora, as well as a general moral code (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). In this way, ethics and morality are defined for an entire species, at least in part, by a mode of prehensive, nonsensory perception. Likewise, tsaheylu, the bond that the Na’vi are physiologically equipped to make with other living elements of their environment via their queues, presents a biological mechanism for connection that allows for experience beyond basic sensory perception. The queue connection allows the Na’vi to recognize energetic and kinetic signals from living entities in their environment, as well as to communicate telepathically 3 with the creatures of Pandora (Wilhelm and Mathison, 2009). This mode of experiencing outside of classical sensation thus aligns with the prehensive component of Griffin’s naturalismppp.

Finally, the panexperientialist element of Griffin’s model, which affirms the distinction between mind and brain while maintaining a connection between them that avoids dualism, is evidenced in both the use of the queue, as well as the functionality of the Avatar bodies themselves (Griffin, 2002). The Na’vi are able to connect their consciousness (mind) to other sources of consciousness as a result of the physical neuronal capacity of their queues, which are extensions of their central nervous systems (brain) (Wilhelm and Mathison, 2009). Similarly, a simultaneous distinction and connection between the mind and brain is seen in the process of linking a human consciousness to an Avatar body: the consciousness is all that is transferred, but the success of the transfer depends upon the genetic compatibility between the human Avatar driver and the Avatar body (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). The distinction of mind and body is further underscored in the Na’vi conceptualization of life and death, in which the world is viewed as “a network of energy that flows through all living things…all energy is only borrowed and one day, you have to give it back” (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). Coinciding here with Goodenough’s Credo of Continuation of the primacy of life within a definitively natural order, the overall presentation of Na’vi culture and belief does appear, on the surface, to be reconcilable with at least some kind of religious naturalism (Goodenough, 1998). Despite these points of cohesion, however, Avatar goes on to deviate from religious naturalism in a crucial way: it affirms supernaturalism, the stated antithesis of the very naturalism that serves as a foundation for religious naturalism.

Ultimate Inclusion of Supernaturalism

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite these depictions of a naturalistic ethos, Avatar ultimately contradicts the core assertion of religious naturalism—Griffin’s “great truth” of nonsupernaturalism—with significant inclusion of the supernatural with regard to the nature and actions of the deity Eywa (Griffin, 2002). While the film often muddles the distinction between the deity Eywa and the natural neuronal network of the planet, official tie-in publications make it clear that the “profound spiritual connection among all creatures” that the Na’vi are able to access and participate in via their queues is not synonymous with “the deity they call Eywa” (Wilhelm and Mathison, 2009). Building upon this differentiation and using the observed and implied actions and comments of the Na’vi to define the universal web of the interconnected natural world of Pandora, Eywa is characterized in the film as having a distinct will, as being persuadable, and, as a function of these two traits, as being capable of divine interventions that violate the natural laws of balance that seem to govern Pandoran life.

Griffin presents ontological supernaturalism, in which “there exists a being that can interrupt the world’s normal processes,” in opposition to his “great truth” of nonsupernaturalism (Griffin, 2002). One crucial theme of supernaturalism in this sense that is recurrent within the storyline is the potential for Eywa’s intervention in the natural processes of the world and the affairs of the Na’vi. Eywa is characterized as willful from the beginning of the film: Mo’at is the Tsahìk, the spiritual leader responsible for interpreting the will of Eywa, implying that the Na’vi desire to know (and perhaps act in accordance with) Eywa’s will, which in turn suggests an indirect intervention of the deity in the natural order. This is seen similarly with the atokirina, or seeds of the sacred tree, which are viewed as intervening, in conjunction with the will of Eywa, to sway Neytiri from killing Jake Sully when they first meet (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). Likewise, Jake confides in Eywa a belief that the goddess “chose [him] for something,” implying a degree of predestination in the interactions between Eywa and the natural world that violates naturalism by implying divine intervention in the natural order, as well as by undermining causal relationships in nature (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010).

Beyond these examples, the interventionist capacity of the deity is depicted most significantly in the interactions that Jake Sully has regarding Eywa leading up to and during the climax of the film: the assault of the human mining militia, the RDA, upon the Na’vi. Neytiri tells him that the Utral Aymokriyä, or the Tree of Voices, is a place to commune with Eywa directly, describing it as “a place for prayers to be heard, and sometimes answered” (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). Such a claim implies that Ewya is a goddess open to petition and likewise capable of acting above the capacities of the Na’vi to “answer” their prayers. However, when Jake attempts to ask Eywa for help in the upcoming battle against the human forces seeking to subdue the Na’vi, Neytiri explains that Eywa “protects only the balance of life” (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). This implies the capacity of the deity to interfere in whatever circumstances occur as a result of the natural order to preserve or reassert said balance. More than this, however, when Neytiri witnesses the seemingly coordinated assault of Pandora’s fauna against the humans attacking the Na’vi, she enthusiastically cries out: “Eywa has heard you!” Whether this is indeed a response to mortal petition or a response to the need for balance, Eywa is clearly depicted as an interventionist, and thus a supernaturalistic, deity.

 

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Another supernatural element that is mentioned multiple times

 

throughout the film is that of continued subjective consciousness, either within Eywa, or through physical reincarnation. The Tree of Voices is a site at which the Na’vi can access the memories of their ancestors (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). While this description does not necessarily tread into the realm of supernaturalism, given the physiological capacity of the Na’vi to connect neurally to their planet and their deity, Neytiri claims that the dead “live…within Eywa,” which introduces a degree of vagueness that can be interpreted to imply a supernaturalistic continuation of subjective consciousness, rather than the more objective immortality represented by the simple continuation of static memories (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). Similarly, while the reference is fleeting within the script, Jake Sully makes the implication that a belief in reincarnation is at least colloquially referenced in Na’vi culture: “The Na’vi say that every person is born twice; the second time is when you earn your place among the people, forever” (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). This passing comment is given further weight when considered in conjunction with a much more significant display of Eywa’s power: the capacity to transfer subjective consciousness between physical bodies.

When Grace Augustine suffers a fatal gunshot wound, Jake originally states that he means to seek the help of the Omaticaya; however, by the time he reaches the Na’vi to ask for help, he specifically “[begs] the help of Eywa,” implying that, as Grace’s condition grows more dire, Eywa would be capable of healing beyond the skills of the Na’vi and/or the natural world (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). At the Vitraya Ramunong, or Tree of Souls, Mo’at leads a ritual to petition the help of Eywa in transferring Grace’s human consciousness into an Avatar body. While the Na’vi do participate in this ritual, invoking the collective power of their queue connections in communicating with and experiencing Eywa, the work of transferring Grace’s consciousness and saving “all that she is” from impending death is ultimately achieved through an encounter with the deity in which Grace must “pass through the Eye of Eywa, and return” (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). In this act of supernatural manipulation of consciousness, Eywa is again characterized by Mo’at as willful and persuadable, claiming that the deity “may choose to save all that she is in this body,” and thus implying that Eywa may just as easily choose not to save Grace in her Avatar body (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). If indeed the Na’vi conceptualization of the lifecycle can be summarized, as the characters claim, as “a network of energy that flows through all living things…all energy is only borrowed and one day, you have to give it back,” then the potential for subjective immortality would violate the natural order, introducing the supernatural continuation of consciousness as sustained and mediated through a deity outside of the naturalistic framework (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). Likewise, such affirmations of subjective immortality reject the central assertion of most religious naturalisms that death is scientifically programmed into our genetic code and is part of the natural course of life (Goodenough, 1998). Finally, just before Grace dies, she proclaims, referring to Eywa: “I’m with her Jake. She’s real” (Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition, 2010). In this short attestation, the deity is characterized as both personal and present within an unseen, presumably nonphysical realm, which violates the naturalistic idea that the natural, physical world is singular, and that no separate, supernatural, or immaterial world exists beyond it (Clark, 2007). Overall, then, Avatar embraces supernaturalism too heavily to be considered a faithful representation of religious naturalism on the whole.

The Implications of Affirming Media Portrayals in Practice

Myths and stories have always existed to help humanity navigate its most challenge questions, and have long operated as safe and supportive spaces in which to lay out the deepest and most soul-stirring issues of our times and to draw a paths for ourselves and others to learn from and follow; visual narratives, in this respect, are no exception (Campbell, 1988). As a film, Avatar presents and affirms many elements of various frameworks of religious naturalism, particularly aligning with the naturalismppp model of David Ray Griffin and the emergent religious principles identified by Ursula Goodenough. Despite this, the deity within the film is portrayed as being capable of and engaging in numerous acts of supernaturalism. Thus, the religious orientation of the Na’vi toward Eywa does not successfully model a framework of religious naturalism. In light of this conclusion—particularly given the fact that Avatar does convey a fairly robust religious naturalism that, had it not been paired with supernaturalistic elements, would be a defensible example of religious naturalism in popular culture—it is relevant to consider what the ultimate inclusion of such themes achieves within the context of the film as a commercial work aimed at an audience with particular cultural and cognitive biases.

Modern science suggests evolutionary origins for the human predisposition toward supernatural beliefs, citing specifically that the overactive cognitive capacities that once functioned primarily to aid hunter-gatherer survival eventually produced the tendency to attribute intentionality and causal influence to unseen agents (Wildman, 2009). This attributive tendency, among other evolutionary, social, and behavioral factors, produces numerous cognitive biases that yield errors in perception: errors that often favor supernatural explanations for situations that violate the familiar, accepted paradigm (Wildman, 2009). When these biases and predispositions are considered within the context of Avatar, it makes sense that the film presents a planet typified by connection and peaceful coexistence that adheres to religious naturalism up to the point where it allows for supernatural interventions. This approach couches the less popularly affirmed view of religious naturalism in familiar terms, presenting only a few “strange features” to “minimally violate, and thus memorably contrast with” an ultimately recognizable (if idealized) world, an alien race that adheres largely to human ethics and social mores, and the presence of the kinds of supernatural beliefs that human beings are predisposed to affirm. Thus, one possible reason for the direction Avatar takes toward supernaturalism might be the biases of the human creators of the film itself. However, writer and director James Cameron identifies himself as a “converted agnostic,” which makes this explanation less likely (Keegan, 2009). The commercial aspect of the enterprise is a possible motivation, considering that it is only logical that people are more willing to pay to see things they find more interesting, and ideas that align with existing cognitive biases and are violated minimally, but memorably—such as the case with Avatar—are generally perceived as more intriguing (Wildman, 2009). Given the financial success of the film, which earned more than $2.78 billion and holds the all-time box office record for top grossing film, such an approach could certainly be deemed as having been successful (Box Office Mojo, 2013).

A less cynical interpretation as to why the film avoids pure religious naturalism and reflects supernaturalistic cognitive biases, however, can be found in Cameron’s dedication to the preservation of the natural world and his own intended message of environmentalism in Avatar. Citing environmental motivations for his vegan diet and noting that his intention for making the film was to highlight the need for environmental awareness and activism, Cameron states:

IMG_6348People need to be reminded [of Earth’s environmental crisis] from every direction. Maybe people want to go see a film for pure entertainment, and not want to think about it and not have to feel guilty – I’m not trying to make people feel guilty… I just want them to internalize a sense of respect and a sense of taking responsibility for the stewardship of the earth.. and I think this film can do that by creating an emotional reaction (Chang, 2012; Koch, 2010).

Cameron also notes that while he was asked to remove some of the more religiously naturalistic elements from the film by its distributor, 20th Century Fox, whose executives disparaged the themes as “tree-hugging, ‘FernGully’ crap,” he stood firmly by their inclusion based on his personal convictions (Ditzian, 2010). Given such a context, it seems likely that the reasoning behind the inclusion of supernaturalism in Avatar, even as it contradicts an otherwise religiously naturalistic worldview, was intended less as a marketing strategy and more as a means of raising public consciousness and concern for the state of the natural world. Kanda and Wagner (2010)—professors of biology and religion, respectively, at Ithaca College—identify the overarching function of Avatar as being an invitation for the audience to mimic intimacy with the natural world on screen in real life. Accepting such an invitation to contradict the prevailing paradigm of environmental apathy, then, proves much easier when it is offered in conjunction with the familiar. Thus, the choice to pair naturalistic and supernaturalistic elements in Avatar, while not consistent with religious naturalism as a worldview, does prove to be a viable approach for achieving the filmmaker’s intended ends.


 

bioimageBio:

Katelynn Carver is currently studying for her PhD in the Institute of Theology, Imagination and the Arts, St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, pursuing a postsecular, multidisciplinary, process-oriented theopoetics of the life and works of Virginia Woolf. Prior to settling in the UK, Katelynn both worked in admissions/student services and earned her Master’s degree in Religion and the Sciences / Religion, Literature, and Culture at Harvard University, where she also served as Managing Editor for The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School. She currently serves as a Contributing Scholar at State of Formation, Editor of Guest Contributions for Transpositions, and Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Inklings Studies. She believes in the Oxford Comma, has a keen adoration for all things related to Marvel Comics, proudly boasts a collection of Converse Chuck Taylors in an array of styles and colors, bakes to share (rather than to eat), and loves painting—specifically the kind that involves Pollock-esque splatterings of bright colors, or oil paints that you can blend with your hands.

 

 


 

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Endnotes

1 In considering Cameron’s contribution to the mythopoetic narrative corpus, specifically with regard to the originality (or lack thereof) of both his plot and his use of common genre tropes, it is important to note two specific veins of distinction. First: the discussion of whether Cameron’s storytelling and its associated devices in Avatar are infringements upon the works of other creators (see the claims filed by Shaomou (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/09/movies/09arts-AVATARPLAGIA_BRF.html?_r=0), Malik (http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Vancouver+suing+Avatar+director+James+Cameron+scores+minor/7412758/story.html),  Van (http://www.scribd.com/doc/76148137/Gov-uscourts-casd-323630-51-0), Ryder (http://images3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130216145008/jamescameronsavatar/images/f/fe/Eric_Ryder_vs._Lighstorm_Lawsuit.pdf), Morawski (http://www.scribd.com/doc/124001146/Avatar-ruling), Moore (http://deadline.com/2013/03/james-cameron-fox-denied-dismissal-of-latest-avatar-lawsuit-455788/), Schkeiban (http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/01/25/Avatar.pdf), and Dean (http://www-deadline-com.vimg.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Avatar-Art-Copyright-Lawsuit__130629012400.pdf), among various other informal comparisons made), and/or are sufficiently innovative to constitute significant contributions to the genre in their own right are far beyond this scope of this article, and are additionally beside the point of its intended analysis. In tacitly accepting, for the sake of the argument at hand, that Cameron’s vision is one of many utilizing the themes and portrayals thereof in the spirit of nihil novi sub sole, Avatar is viewed and considered within the present text as being uniquely poised for consideration and discussion as a result of the vibrancy of global discussion and exposure surrounding the film as a result of its unprecedented technological advances, its immense commercial success, and its ubiquity in terms of reference as a result of these, spurring commentary from bloggers and colloquial conversation to the Vatican, and thus attesting to a particular enormity of relevance within modern popular culture, beyond the boundaries of genre work. As such, Avatar contributes intriguingly to the mythopoetic narrative corpus on many axes that may be considered controversial or debatable, but absolutely contributes by way of sheer scope and transcendence of typical genre lines, thus representing a popularization of mythopoetic thematics that deserves consideration (such as is, again, beyond the scope of this particular article, but which theoretically justifies the use of Avatar as an artistically and culturally relevant example of the mythopoetic genre and its modern functionality and expression).

 

2 In considering a fictional narrative, specifically a distinctly alien one, it is necessary to recognize the discrepancies between what is actually occurring within an objective reality, and the biased accounts of that reality as conveyed by the characters within the story. Given the limited information on the objective reality of James Cameron’s Pandora and the Na’vi as a species, I am relying primarily on the observations, implications, and reactions of the characters, in conjunction with supplemental material on Na’vi culture and beliefs, in order to address the question of whether or not Avatar, as considered in this stated context, reliably conveys the paradigm of religious naturalism that is largely assumed by critics and commentators in the public discourse surrounding the film. Due to the aforementioned lack of objective information about the Na’vi and their religious beliefs, I have chosen to address this question with regard to practiced religious naturalism as it is understood and accepted by the population that adheres to such a worldview, approaching the content of the film and its associated official publications as comprising a qualitative ethnographic dataset for consideration. Additionally, I have largely chosen to interpret ambiguous comments or occurrences within the film literally rather than symbolically, particularly when addressing the supernatural capacities of the deity Eywa. This is because I believe that such speculation would result in the observer error of making assumptions about the subjective biases of the characters based on an externally imposed framework and without sufficient evidence. This choice was also informed by the supplemental materials available (cited within the text) that make distinctions between the natural neuronal connectivity of the Pandoran ecosystem and the deity, indicating that Eywa exists as something other than/outside of that network. Numerous questions and/or suggestions of alternative approaches will undoubtedly arise in response to this mode of inquiry, particularly considering the vast array of religious naturalisms that may or may not align with my interpretation of Na’vi religious understandings and practices, as well as the capacity for alternative interpretations of the implied nature of the deity within Cameron’s world. The question of whether other interpretations might yield different conclusions regarding whether this film can be considered consistent with religious naturalism is beyond the scope of this investigation; nevertheless, it is crucial to define the terms of the ensuing conversation, as well as to expand upon the reasoning behind my selected approach to the task at hand.

 

3 It should be noted here that the use of the term “telepathic” in the colloquial/straightforward sense is contextualized specifically in this instance by the causal, electro-chemical connections between entities within the specific fictional canon at hand.

 

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