About a month ago Mark Driscoll made a bit of stir when he called Avatar the most “demonic, satanic film I have ever seen.” I dismissed this allegation as just another paranoid condemnation of pop culture by a religious reactionary, but it did remind me that I probably ought to go see it before it left the theaters.
Having finally sat through the over-hyped spectacle last weekend, I have to admit that Driscoll is not completely wrong in his allegations of heavy-handed, politically loaded filmmaking. To call Avatar’s message “thinly veiled” would be generous. To call it a preachy, new–age-hippie-turned-huge-Hollywood-sell-out pet project seems more accurate.
Where I disagree with Driscoll is when he claims, “The visuals are amazing because Satan wants you to connect with the lie.” Well, as a writer I may be biased, but I think people throughout the ages have connected more with great stories than great visuals (case in point: the smoke monster from Lost looks lame, yet we somehow take it seriously because we are so wrapped up in the story).
I have this to say to Mark Driscoll: if the Devil made a movie, it would be a whole lot better than Avatar.
For starters, the Devil would have employed a less predictable plot. About 20 minutes into the movie, everyone pretty much knows exactly what is going to happen. As I writhed through the main character’s interminable initiation process I found myself begging, Please just grab the stupid dragon so you can defect and fight the humans already! Please!
Secondly, I’m pretty sure the Devil has more appreciation for the complexity of the individual human being than James Cameron does. Avatar is populated with one-dimensional characters acting as crude representations of Science, Business and Military (the latter two completely ignorant, the former just partially so). There’s never any question about who the ‘bad guys’ are when they are indiscriminately launching missiles into the lush rainforests and slaughtering defenseless jungle-dwellers.
Finally, it takes either tremendous faith or tremendous arrogance (more likely the latter) to ask an audience to identify with a group of 12-foot-tall, blue CGI cat people who are so scantily clad that you spend the movie in constant fear that they will expose their junk even though you are well aware that that could never happen because they are animated. Cameron not only asks us to take their sanctimonious ‘connection’ with nature through their creepy ponytails seriously, he asks us to find some spiritual significance in this off-putting organic fusion.
Cameron, if he felt he had anything to learn from anyone, could have taken a page from the Marvel playbook. The X-Men movies demonstrate how to create a sympathetic villain and Iron Man offers a much more complex (and entertaining) narrative on the rethinking of global capitalism.
Great story and visual spectacle are by no means incompatible: just look at Jurassic Park or Terminator 2 (directed by Cameron, himself, and demonstrating that a co-writer can make a world of difference).
So, please, Mark Driscoll and Christians everywhere, don’t worry. Avatar is the movie you would get if you gave 500 million dollars to some beatnik undergraduate art student in San Francisco, not the movie you would get if you put Satan in the director’s chair.
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