Avatar TWOW — Pro-Family, Pro-Gun?, A Molecular Biologist’s Thoughts
I finally saw Avatar The Way of Water, the much-anticipated sequel to the 2009 film which featured indigenous blue lemur-like people living on the alien moon of Pandora. The original Avatar film was probably the most visually stunning film of all time, and clearly represented a lot of talent and hard work. Yet it was criticized for its low-hanging plot, which seemed like “Fern Gully” for adults.
I expected to walk into the sequel and experience a preachy woke message with little substance. I was very pleasantly surprised, to find the sequel to be even better than the original.
A number of obvious Left-wing tropes were clearly present, and need to be addressed upfront. I will do so in rapid-fire. Nature is depicted as a “delicate nurturer” (to use Alex Epstein’s term). Mother nature in the form of Eywa, a collective mind formed within the planet’s interconnected trees, seems to lovingly take care of her children, and her children, the Na’vi people, are one with this collective mother goddess. The indigenous people, likewise are depicted as being “noble savages,” a stereotype that tribal people are peaceful and one with nature.
Technology and industry, are typically depicted in a very negative light. (Spoiler Alert) At one point an outpost descends on the tropical landscape, and animals desperately flee as the metal monster indiscriminately burns the forest in its path to clear away a landing zone. In another scene, a shaman village healer refused to help a teenage girl until the human technology had been removed from the room.
As someone with a background in biotechnology, I really appreciate the emphasis on the value of nature. That said, in real life, nature is not a delicate nurturer. Before the Industrial Revolution, the Scientific Revolution, and the widespread use of fossil fuels (thanks to Rockefeller) you were lucky to live past age 5. Diseases were rampant, food was far less abundant, and most people had to spend most of their lives doing back-breaking work in the dirt to support their basic need for food.
Anyone who has seen a wilderness survival show, such as “Naked and Afraid,” will understand that nature is not a delicate nurturer. Grizzly bears aren’t volunteering to bring you dinner and cradle your children. Nature is at best indifferent to your well-being, and at its worse, wants to kill you, with very very rare exceptions.
The idea that everyone lived in an Edenic paradise before the Industrial Revolution is simply not reality, despite what we might see in Avatar’s Pandora or The Hobbit’s Shire.
As a Bible-believing Christian, I do believe that humans once lived in an Edenic paradise (i.e. Eden), and I would argue that even with paradise lost, humans still have a sense of how we were meant to live, and that is why Pandora is so appealing.
There is also a sense of wanting a connection to an objectively real spirituality, and that is something that Christians need to pay real attention to.
A Father’s Role
I was surprised to find that the story in this movie was much better than the original. There were good plot elements and relatable characterization.
One of the most interesting elements was the emphasis on the nuclear family, which included specified gender roles. Very surprisingly, there was no gender-bending that I noticed: no introducing an obvious male as a chief’s “daughter,” and no females being depicted as “nonbinary.” On the contrary, the females were presented as very feminine, and the males were depicted as males.
In particular, it was emphasized that the role of a father is to protect his family, speak for his family, and train his children in the way they should go. At one point Jake Sully, the main character, apologizes for his wife’s disrespect even though she was defending him to the leaders of a foreign tribe. The layers of dialogue in that particular scene were very well done.
(Spoiler) It is precisely this role of a father that the primary bad guy uses as leverage against the protagonists.
Interestingly, Jake Sully, acting as a good father, also taught his teenage sons about guns, and guns were used by the Na’vi to defend themselves from the human invaders.
A Pro-Gun Movie?
Taking the movie at face value, the Na’vi used both human-made guns and native weapons to defend themselves from the “Sky people” who were invading their world. Throughout history, powerful empires have subjugated tribes that were less powerful. We even see this a number of times in the Bible, long before the European Colonial period. It would be surprising if centuries in the future, history did not repeat itself in some form or another.
The Na’vi on Pandora may not have as much firepower as the human invaders, yet anyone can see how having some access to guns helps them to put up a resistance against their would-be persecutors. (Spoiler) I was surprised towards the end that most of the humans did not retreat, rather than continue their battle against the water tribes. I get the obsessive one-mindedness of the main bad guy, but most of the humans who were involved with him were reluctant to take part in his cause of tracking down Jake Sully. I find it hard to believe that they would have thrown their lives away once the odds turned so far against their favor.
A Furtive Dream
In speculative fiction writing (such as sci-fi and fantasy) there is a term used called “the furtive dream.” This describes the trance-like state that many authors (myself included) experience when writing fiction. The story takes over, and the events start to play out like a movie in one’s imagination.
The interesting thing about stories is that they often end up saying things that were never intended to be said. Jordan Peterson talks about this a lot in his lectures on literature, deriving many of his ideas from Carl Jung. I suspect that the armed resistance from the Na’vi may be an unintentional reflection of the same sentiment that gave rise to the Second Amendment in the first place.
Throughout this movie, I saw things that seemed to reflect many of the elements that Peterson talks about. The giant metal city descending from the sky sending flames into the trees reminded me of a dragon to be slain and seemed to have parallels to Smaug from The Hobbit. Other, smaller, metal dragons made their appearances as well.
Despite a few major woke tropes, there was a lot going on in this movie that deserves deeper thought and deeper analysis and might be a reflection of truth trying to come to the surface.
As I explain in an upcoming article, good fiction reflects reality.
Even though the tropes of colonizers-bad, natives-good, technology-bad, nature-good, reflects an infantile understanding of history, human nature, and the nature of biological reality, I think there are still some messages to pay attention to.
It is important to be good stewards of the Earth, as God told us to do in Genesis. Neither those who want to worship nature nor those who want to trash the place give us an excuse to ignore what God has commanded. But good stewardship has to be based on knowledge, not on the whims and tantrums of a political mob.
Also, as we go into the future, let’s remember the sins of the past. Empires of the future should be aware that if they try to persecute free people anywhere, there will be a rifle waiting to rise up behind every blade of grass.
I think I will have to watch this movie several times before I can fully process it. That said, the people who made this movie did an amazing job! Despite the negative depictions of technology and the naive depiction of nature as a nurturing mother, this movie still had a surprising amount of substance to it.
The father was depicted as a wise and devoted leader of his family — something extraordinarily rare in 2023. Guns, likewise, were depicted in many cases as tools of defense and protection, especially the defense of liberty for the native people. The most pro-gun Right-winger would have a hard time coming up with a better depiction than this, especially in the context of the events that began with the first movie.
As of right now, I find this to be an excellent science fiction movie. When I watch it the second time, I might notice a lot more flaws. (I noticed a few the first time that were not worth going into detail in this article.) That said, this movie is a very interesting case of human beings processing the world through a fictional story that attempts, in many ways, to reflect reality, and has quite a few things to say.