“You’re not in Kansas anymore. You’re on Pandora, ladies and gentlemen. Respect that fact, every second of every day. If there is a hell — you might want to go there for some R & R, after a tour on Pandora. Out there beyond that fence, every living thing that crawls, flies or squats in the mud wants to kill you and eat your eyes for jujubees.”
I recently saw a Taproot Theatre production of The Great Divorce. For those who don’t know this work of fiction, it was the C.S Lewis’ allegorical stab at heaven and hell. In the story, Lewis’ character leaves the “grey town” with other travelers and they wind up in the foothills of heaven. Although the landscape is the most gorgeous panorama they have ever seen, every inch of its geography – the ground, blades of grass, etc. – is unbearably more solid, more real, than they are. A single leaf is too heavy to lift, and traversing the terrain gives them immense pain. As they are, the visitors cannot really endure the world as they are, because they are ill-suited for paradise. Toward the end of the book, the narrator comes to understand that – by comparison – hell is much smaller than heaven as well. Sadly, the people from the “grey town” reject paradise and deem it deplorable.
From the minute I watched Avatar’s protagonist entering Pandora’s atmosphere, I found eerie similarities. Here we find a virtual paradise by many standards, yet everything from the air to aspects of the flora and fauna are ultimately toxic to the humans… as they are. Ultimately, Jake Sully needs transformation – he needs to be born again in body, mind and spirit – to even survive this environment that seems bigger and brighter than humans can handle in their current state.
James Cameron didn’t create Avatar as a metaphor for heaven and hell, and C.S. Lewis was emphatic that he wasn’t claiming his book was anything other than speculative fiction. Still, in this overlapping area of ideas and imagination… even these two men meet at the foothills, and from different positions they’re still, albeit inadvertently, sharing a kernel of truth.