Unless you’ve been living under some kind of rock, I’m sure you’ve heard of James Cameron’s latest blockbuster, Avatar. I’ll spare you the plot details (see IMDB for the full story). After several failed attempts (it was constantly sold out), I finally saw the film, and I was a little shocked at the overt spirituality within it. I’d heard a lot about the technology, the environmental message, and the story lines recycled from Dances With Wolves and Fern Gully. But what I didn’t realize is that the film is totally yogic. Here’s a breakdown of the yogic elements of Avatar:
interconnectedness of all beings – the Na’vi link to other beings on the planet through neural-chemical connections. One of the characters, Grace – the biologist played by Sigourney Weaver – calls it a network. And indeed, the whole planet is an organic neural network. The Na’vi practice and believe in an interconnection of all life in balance with nature. Because of this, everything is viewed as sacred.
unity – when they get attacked, Jake and the Na’vi realize pretty quickly that they’re going to need allies. They rally up the other clans, and together they fight the humans. Even their former predators, the wild animals of the jungle, unite in the battle against the humans and their corporate agenda.
goddess awesomeness – the Na’vi worship Eywa, and believe that all consciousness is infused with her energy. In yoga, this goddess consciousness is known as Shakti ~ while yoga isn’t exactly a goddess worshiping tradition, there are strong threads of the divine feminine throughout and sects which are devoted to her worship.
hindu origins – the word “avatar” itself is Sanskrit (see this NY Times article for proof), and is rooted in Hindu mythology (as is yoga). Since the advent of Second Life and gaming culture, the word avatar evokes the graphical representation of a computer user – but it’s original meaning is “descent” and it can be “an incarnation or human appearance of a deity, particularly Vishnu.” These incarnations – including one of the most famous, Krishna – have blue skin, and the blue Na’vi beings are themselves meant to evoke hindu deities.
These elements have not been overlooked by Rajan Zed, the Hindu statesman who has appointed himself watchdog of American pop culture. He expressed his initial concerns about the film last spring, and urged James Cameron to “be careful when handling Hindu concepts and terminology.” But he’s been awfully quiet since the film has been on the screens, so perhaps Cameron did a better job than expected.
Despite the strong yogic components of the film, it has managed to become the most popular movie in years (breaking box office records and second only to Cameron’s Titanic as the highest grossing film of all time) and it has captured the collective imagination. It’s fascinating, really – things like the divine feminine and interconnectedness (while not particularly new or radical) aren’t exactly mainstream thinking.
Certainly, people are seduced by the technology and the graphics (which are really amazing ~ in 3D Imax, you totally feel like you’re in the movie. It’s kind of no surprise that people are experiencing post-Avatar depression ~ when I left the cinema, regular life seemed really grey, bland and one-dimensional). But I wonder if the spiritual ideas in the film might just sink in, and affect some kind of change in consciousness, somewhere down the line.
Maybe I’m being too optimistic. While the spirituality is interesting and the visuals are stunning, the film is definitely flawed (predictable storyline, bland writing, and possible racist undertones). But I admit that I have to love a movie that is hated by the Vatican (who objected to how it presented nature as “no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship”), the right-wing and the country of China (because it may encourage people think about the consequences of forced removal). And has dragons, shamans, awesome battle scenes, and a 90s dayglo raver aesthetic, to boot.