Is Mark Driscoll right, is Avatar the 'most Satanic Movie' ever?


The excellent Jason Coker put up a post that caught my eye, that links to a video of Mark Driscoll speaking recently declaring Avatar the most demonic film he has ever seen.

A few immediate thoughts came to mind.  Firstly Mark Driscoll obviously hasn't seen many films ;-) And secondly there is the whole issue of what makes a film overtly 'demonic', and how it can that ever be so? Now the second issue is worthy of discussion, the first requires some film vouchers for Mark, and some guidance from HeyUGuys.

Flippancy aside, I did have some thoughts on Avatar.  I must admit to being very moved by the film, and consider it one of the most significant films of our time, that shows the problem of the human condition, and that it resonates deeply with Christian theology.  But something other than the demonic.

When I was speaking about worship and our contemporary context to a group of Anglican priests back in January, I referenced this article in the Times newspaper.  It suggests that large numbers of people are seeing the movie and and slipping into depression, the experience of an alternative world so compelling in its 3D immerseness, that life back in the real world is revealed as not worth living, in comparison.

I'm not surprised that given the heights the movie takes people to, as a lived possible existence, that the real world is revealed as something lacking in comparison.  But I find this experience  as somewhat ironic.

The hero of the film is paraplegic man, an image of humanity's brokeness, his disability caused by violence.  He travels with other humans from earth, where we are told 'nothing green' exists any more to a new world, a new eden full of green, and resources, to Pandora.  The message is clear, human beings have stripped mined their own planet through consumption and are about to repeat that process on a new planet, a new eden is to be destroyed.

The hero, initially intent on helping destroy this new planet, goes native and becomes a protector of the people and way of life that it holds.  He does this by transferring into a new body, part human, and part alien.  Already the images of eden, fallen humanity and second Adam are replete.

Then his participation and conversion into relationship with the people on this new planet comes through severe ascesis, training in physical disciplines, the learning of the language, grammar and traditions of this new world and culture.  Worship is central to his experience and training, and his desires at all levels, be that love, his body, community and identity, come into extreme conflict through his discipleship in the alien's community.

By the end of the movie, when he not only finds redemption, but also saves the planet from the rest of humanity, he has paid a great price.  His desires are broken against the disciplines of community and sacrifice.  At it's heart Avatart seems to be about the re-training of desire, of the invidualualism that causes the destruction of one world, and it's relocation through worship in a new way  of life.  At one of the peak moments of the film the hero speaks because he has 'earned the right to speak'.  And at the films end, the human being is seen in his brokeness by his lover fully and clearly, and is resurrected permanently into his new body.

And therein lies the irony for me.  That so many who wish they lived in this verdant new world, might have missed that access to it, is through identity change, ascesis.  The need to lose the priority of the individual, for the common good within community.

I wonder how many of us, if we were able to be transported to the new eden of Pandora would pay that price, and with that commitment.  How long before the lack of home comforts, technology, consumer identity would reality hit home and we' be declaring, 'don't you tell me I have the earn the right to speak!'.

Avatar is powerful not because it is demonic, but rather it reveals the human condition in it's falleness and brokeness, and the need for a retraining of our desires to enter into a new way of life.  As Augustine would say, human beings have fallen not from God but into themselves, so overwhelmed by the plentitude of life, that we collapse life into ourselves. Overwhelmed with desire, we desire desire and consume.  The way out is the retraining of our desires, around their correct orientations with other.  It's not that we don't love the world too much, its that we don't love it enough and rightly, and have to learn that with others.

I left the movie, moved, and grateful, rather than depressed.  Thanking God that the worship of the Christian Church, gives me language, grammar and ascesis for entry into a new world.  I have a new body in Christ, and one who would have my imagination through worship opened to the dimensions of his Kingdom, that one day I will be resurrected into, and that I can experience now.

Pandora is real, it's here now for all who would enter it, in Jesus.