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Perspective on Avatar

Posted 02-17-2010 at 07:01 PM by shastastar
I was late coming to this party for many reasons that are not important and did not get to experience Avatar until toward the end of January. Nevertheless, going in I thought I knew what to expect: over the top because computers now make it possible visuals combined with a plot similar to Fern Gully. By the time I saw Avatar I had read many things about it: the obvious and not so subtle references to unobtanium, numerous reviews, a perspective from native indigenous populations that this film reflected their struggle, even a short piece about Avatar depression syndrome where people expressed that they came away from the movie depressed that they would never live in a place of peace and harmony with nature as the Na’Vi seem to on Pandora.

I knew enough before trudging to downtown Austin to watch it in IMAX to know that this film would be a cultural point of reference for the entire world for years to come. Those facts and preconceptions aside, what I came away with was remarkably different. Although the film has all of the above mentioned elements, the choices James Cameron makes, and the way he integrates the unique story is much more multi-layered than the casual critic has discussed. The detail depth scale and scope that Cameron uses to present this film make it more like a great work of literature rather than a great work of film.

All truly great books can be read and enjoyed multiple times with new exciting elements and discoveries coming each time they are read. Avatar is a similar film experience. The visuals and effects are so overwhelming and epic I don’t think even the most astute film student or critic could pick up everything in one viewing. Part of what was so unique about this experience is that not a scrap of what is seen is wasted. Most films use foreground and background and emphasize what the eye needs to be drawn to through lighting focus etc. This film in 3-D in Imax as I experienced it while there was foreground and background, there was not one wasteful or unimportant detail in frame. Every color, lighting choice, highlight, low light, dark space, light space, character line and movement was important. Avatar is a film where if you were to watch it for what is not highlighted, ignore the humans and the Na’Vi, and mute the dialog and just have visual background and score it would still be a stunning moving work of art.

Visuals aside, there is also a lot that Cameron chose not to include that adds to the intrigue of Avatar. The backstory on how the company and the shareholders got to the point where they were willing to commit the heinous acts of destruction against the Na’Vi is not thoroughly explored. How the breakdown in communication between the Na’Vi and the earthlings developed and became entrenched was not explored. Avatar is an entirely different film if there is more focus on how the alien sky people get to the point where they chose violence against the Na’Vi. Perhaps Cameron more wanted to make the point that corporations / situations go to the lowest common denominator of brute force and perhaps this is an accepted fact of humanity that does not need to be explained or explored. It’s presented as FACT that the corporate behavior of conquest is culturally acceptable to our earthly humanity.

Throughout Avatar, the themes of balance, connectivity, and healing are explored. Pandora is presented as a living entity that is teeming with not just life, but intelligence in every rock, tree, creature, and life force. The Na’Vi are also connected to their animals, their horses and their flying dinosaurs. The animals, and their brethren prove invaluable in the fight against the earth sky people. The animals coming in and attacking and standing with the Na’Vi against a greater enemy show their connectivity to nature and to the Na’Vi both through the bio fiber optic electro luminescent links and through their connection to their planet. The animals also provide food and sustenance to the Na’Vi through the hunt, assistance in their hunts, as well as transportation to get around Pandora.

Through their connection to Pandora, reading the signs they are sent and understanding, the Na’Vi reach out to Sully and train him and learn from them, and because of this they are saved as a people. The Na’Vi are connected to each other visually through the electroluminescence that results from their singing and touching one another in ritual, and also through the tree of souls that is thought to hold the energy of those that have passed through Eh-Wah, the spriritual deity the all that is of Pandora. The connection is demonstrated to work both ways in that Eh-Wah believed what Sully had said about the sky people and reached into whatever innate knowledge Eh-Wah gained through connection to Dr Augustine and to Sully and decided the alien invaders threw Pandora out of balance. There was intelligence in this decision to call on the animals to carry out the fight against the earth sky people and retain balance. Pandora the physical planet and Eh-Wah the spiritual soul component is in essence personified as a character in Avatar, capable of making decisions and possessing great intelligence.

The healing comes in a very interesting way on Pandora. Sully is healed by his Avatar which gives him new legs. In a very real visual, physical, and graphic way, he is free on Pandora in a way that he is not free in his earth bound body with his paralyzed legs. Dr Augustine cannot be healed physically or spiritually as Mo’at says she is too far gone, not just in physical injuries but in a real sense she has been there too long too many prejudices about Pandora, and unable to “believe in the fairy tale” as she puts it and connect to Eh-Wah, except at the end she sees feels and experiences the connection. She is healed as her energy is given back to Pandora on a spiritual level, but her physical being is no more.

On a deeper level Avatar presents in contrast the majority of the earth sky people as only able to connect to each other and to Pandora through their technology in a very un-natural inorganic way. Without their sensors, computer satellite imagery, controlled atmosphere and machine guns, they can’t function, and are crippled in the Hallelujah floating mountains because of the electromagnetic flux and resulting electronic interference. The earth sky people cannot breathe on Pandora without their masks, which physically and spiritually cover, hide, and separate them from Pandora. Marine Col Quaritch admits the lower gravity makes him soft, is completely unable to fight effectively without his robot, and is only connected to the robot, a thing, not a life giving intelligent entity like Pandora. So focused on drilling for “valuable” deposits of unobtanium, the earth sky people are unable to understand or obtain the true intelligence and true connection that Pandora provides the Na’Vi.

The converse of Pandora’s healing is that on earth our sickness, our disconnectedness from each other and the environment and our imbalance is as a result of our surrounding ourselves with material possessions. All the man made “things” that tip the scales in favor of our own convenience and ego gratification, separate us from our Eh-Wah, kill Eh-Wah and ultimately our souls and physical bodies. Avatar presents us, our humanity, our separation, imbalance, illness, and disconnectedness in opposition to what we could be if we could perhaps learn to see beyond quarterly statements, keeping up with the Joneses, pervasive corporate advertising, and get back to what matters: our families and friends, taking care of our environment, helping our fellow man, and connecting with balancing and healing each other in unimaginably magnificent and amazing ways.
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