The common theme which seems to pervade many of my favorite movies – Avatar, Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings series – is the core truth that we are not the individual, but just a temporary expression of something much larger. “The force” in Star Wars, “Eywa” in Avatar, and the power of the “One Ring” in Lord of the Rings. These things are honored, or dishonored in the case of the Ring, as they represent the fundamental truth (or lie) of our reality.
The Ring seems to be the most powerful and direct metaphor to ‘Maya’ (delusion) of Advaita Vedanta. As we cling to our false sense of ego and identity, we suffer and become possessive and angry like Gollum, Bilbo, and Frodo. When the ego is cast off, as Tom Bombadil has, then the Ring (ego) has no power over us and we are truly free. The rest of the characters – men, elves, wizards, hobbits, etc. – have varying degrees of control over themselves.
It is an interesting reflection of our culture that Tom Bombadil was left out of the movie. Peter Jackson did not mention anything except that Bombabil seemed to be less important than other characters. Tolkien himself didn’t seem to quite understand him , but his description says it all:
“he is just an invention, and he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function. I might put it this way. The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. but if you have, as it were taken ‘a vow of poverty’, renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless.”
The Buddha himself could not have put it better! In the world of Hollywood and our everyday living however, it seems absurd to even entertain the idea of renouncing control and not taking a side one way or the other. To just sit and be, without the dualistic mind trying to dig and figure out and analyze everything all day long? Preposterous! This will not make good cinema, think of the ratings!
The “light side” and “dark side” in Star Wars as well as “Eywa” and the resource extraction of the Resources Development Administration in Avatar represent this same struggle and dichotomy of the human experience. These movies are some of the most commercially successful franchises of all time, and it is likely that this subtle theme is what brings movie-goers to them again and again.
Or it could just be the cool special effects.