Avatar the Messiah

Avatar WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS "PLOT SPOILERS" FOR THE MOVIE AVATAR.

In the course of the discussion, I will of necessity give away some plot points in the movie.  If you have not seen the movie, and don't want learn some of what happens, DON'T click on the "continue reading" link.

On the other hand, knowing the plot ahead of time will not seriously detract from your enjoyment of the movie.  The visual effects are TRULY stunning, breathtaking.  As Lauri said when we left the theater, you can see every shekel of the $250 million James Cameron spent to make the movie.

 There have been numerous articles recently about the "White Messiah" theme in Avatar, and how similar it is to other movies, like "A Man Called Horse," "Dances with Wolves," or the "Last Samurai."  See David Brooks' piece in the NY Times here.

I am, however, surprised that a quick internet search did not reveal the Biblical Messianic — even blatantly Cristological — plot and symbology in the movie.  So here is my take:

Obviously, the "Navi" are the Jews — Navi means "prophet" in Hebrew!  The Navi — who might seem to be pagan — are actually the spiritual worshipers of God, who they call "eywa" which sounds quite similar to "yahweh" a common mispronunciation of God's unpronounceable name.  The "American" space-faring Marines are the pagan Romans, an overwhlemingly superior military force with no respect for the local gods or customs.

The Messiah (Jake) has a virgin birth — he's "born" by combining human and alien DNA and growing it in a tank.  In the Biblical Messiah story, the Messiah is descended from a convert — the Messiah is descended from King David, who is descended from the convert Ruth.  In the movie, the hero himself, is, of course, a "convert."  The body he is "reborn" into is immersed in a mikveh (see comment above about virgin birth).  He converts from human to navi — he becomes a prophet!  We do not, however, get to see whether the Messiah is circumcised.  And a dramatic transformation it is: from crippled human to 9-foot-tall kick-ass bad blue dude.

There's still more.  Before he realizes he is the Messiah, there is a sign from heaven, in the form of these cute floating lights that look like stars (Bethlehem, anyone?).

There is even a nod to the tradition of Moshiach ben Yosef preceding Moshiach ben David, and failing: Grace tries to do the trick of transfering her soul from her human body to her navi body, but she fails…the true Messiah succeeds.

The Biblical tradition holds that the Messiah will deliver the chosen people from the yoke of foreign domination, against the odds, which of course the hero does.  It is noted that this is a common movie theme — the more powerful force winning after all, does not make for a very interesting movie — but it is another element that is present.

And last but not least, there is the Messiah resurrected from the dead.  Willingly sacrificing his life to be reborn, transformed.

Despite the overly familiar plot — no cliche was overlooked in putting together the script for this movie — it's worth seeing.  The movie is nearly three hours of "eye candy" and in classic American Hollywood fashion, the good guys win in the end, so everyone can leave the theater feeling good.

Unless you are a capitalist working in the extractive industries.  In which case, you'll leave the theater feeling guilty as hell!  Or at least the director/screenwriter hopes you will!

Reb Barry

PS: the picture is not the Messiah, it's his girlfriend…and I'm also reminded of one of my favorite teachings about the Messiah, from one of my professors in rab school: The Messiah always has to be out in the future, because once the Messiah comes, the movie's over! 🙂

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

3 thoughts on “Avatar the Messiah

  • January 11, 2010 at 10:42 am
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    I haven’t seen the show but read reviews and picked up on the navi instantly. Anyway, the messiah’s (Yahshua’s) successor in Jerusalem according to several first century sources was Ya’aqov haTzadik – Jacob the Just, who was murdered by the high priest in 62 AD. Maybe this is “Jake” and the whole plot came out of Robert Eisenman’s exegetical works.

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  • January 13, 2010 at 1:30 pm
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    Excellent observations. I especially liked the point about the Star of Bethlehem. But I’m surprised you missed the biblical connection with the name Jake. I’ll just quote from my own review which can be found at:

    http://futurenewstoday.blogspot.com/2010/01/avatar-life-vs-death.html

    (skip down to the section titled “Jake as Messiah”)

    “Contemplating more on the name Jake, it is clear that this is a shortened form of Jacob. In the Bible, Jacob is famous for his dream of a ladder that goes from Earth to Heaven. Jake also has a dream. In his dream he is flying – perhaps flying up into Heaven. Pandora then is Heaven or Paradise. In Jacob’s dream he sees Angel’s ascending and descending the ladder, while on Pandora the Na’vi fly through the air like Angels on the backs of their Banshees.”

    “Not only that, but in the Bible Jacob had a twin brother – just like Jake Sully. And also in the Bible, Jacob takes the place of his brother Esau in the sense that he becomes the family heir. Finally after wrestling with an Angel, Jacob becomes Israel and becomes the father of the Hebrew people. Perhaps this Angel is represented in the movie Avatar by the Toruk – the enormous flying creature that Jake ‘wrestles’ in order to tame it.”

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  • January 14, 2010 at 1:33 pm
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    Interesting points about “Jake.” I like the image of the Toruk being the angel Jacob wrestles with.

    The movie is clearly deep into symbolism; of course Cameron spent 15 years working on the film, so he had a lot of time to think about it!

    Reb Barry

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