Theatrical Release: December 2009
DVD Release: April 2010
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore
Director/Screenwriter: James Cameron
Twentieth Century Fox
After I Lost the Use of My Legs They Grafted My Soul Onto the Body of This Big Blue Masai Warrior and Dumped Me on Another Planet Where Everything Went to Hell Until the Marines Got Booted Off
The word ?avatar? is one of some significance in the digital age, which is one reason why it begs examination. When one’s soul, one’s consciousness, one’s reason inhabits a new body, a new life is created: a second chance, perhaps, at becoming what you were meant to be. On the other hand, your soul is still essentially vulnerable and alone, desperately in need of union with something grander?and kinder?than merely yourself.
The enemy, for one thing, is brutal and remorseless. The Marines degrade the gigantic, agile, and lovely Na?vi by calling them ?blue monkeys,? ?aboriginal horde,? and ?fly-bitten savages,? spiritually shrinking these magnificent creatures by means of racist-type epithets in order to justify snuffing them out. After all, genocide must be scientifically executed: demean, demoralize, infiltrate, sabotage, and destroy what a group holds sacred and you’ve knocked them out for a round. If they stand up too fast, lay ?em low with an overhand right.
Contrast this with the simple poetry of conscious, compassionate interaction with the living beings around you. The Na?vi greeting, ?I see you,? not shared between the lovers until the end of the film, is explained by one earthling thus: ? . . . It’s not just, ?I’m seeing you in front of me,? It’s, ?I see into you. I see you?I’m accepting you. I understand you . . .??
It’s fun to speculate on the sources of the complex of ideas in this film. Avatar loses points for pompous New Age posing, but regains them with respectful nods to Native American mysticism. Some of the dialogue is a bit preachy, but at other times it rings with the depth of Rachel Carson and the newness of Joel de Rosnay’s ?symbiotic man.? There is also the mythological component: the Tree of Souls is an enchanting manifestation of the archetypal Tree of Life, similar to Yggdrasil in Norse mythology, a network of links between the spiritual and the material worlds and thus a locus of life and healing and a link between past and future. And the paramour Neytiri is a clearly phallic female, the ideal partner for a man just emerging from a sense of powerlessness.
I’m normally not much of a visual spectacle buff, but the vicarious thrill of watching these glorious creatures swoop through the floating mountains and tropical wonderlands is positively regenerative. And you can feel every ounce of the delicious freedom experienced by Jake when, having gone to sleep a paraplegic, he wakes up a magnificent blue specimen of a sentient being. Like the best of fantasy film, art, and literature, Avatar bears just enough resemblance to reality to effectively open our eyes to the wonder?and the phenomenal responsibility?of life in the real world.
Avatar manifests five of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; 2) it is about attainment of the true self; 3) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 4) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 5) it is authentic, original, and delightful, and 6) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity.