Note: spoilers present.
We went to see Avatar with some friends a few weeks ago. Since that time, a few people have sent reviews my way. Some of them have made it clear that while the same film rolls, we all experience a different movie.
Avatar is a movie that follows Joseph Campbell’s idea of The Hero’s Journey. Within it are multiple smaller stories—all mimicking some aspect of life as seen from different points of view. There is the journey of the individual from feeling defeated to earning victory. There is love. There is war. There are politics and jealousy. There is technology versus living in balance with the land. (Both might be possible, but we don’t see it in this story or in our history.) And there are conflicting beliefs with each side fully convinced that theirs is the only one worth believing in and dying for. Avatar does an excellent job of capturing the complexity of the stories of our real lives within a fictional world.
Several of the reviewers quoted the scene where Colonel Quaritch asks Jake Sully, “How does it feel to betray your own race?” They call the colonel loyal, honorable, and humane while calling Sully a traitor to both the Marines and all of humanity. One reviewer went so far as to say that Sully destroyed humanity’s last hope for survival. I suppose I can see how they got there, but that wasn’t my experience of the scene. In fact, throughout the movie there was an underlying story about second chances, personal growth and change, understanding the value of all life, and the hard work and sacrifices as well as rewards that sometimes go along with those things.
When the colonel asked Jake how it felt to betray his own race, I thought that the question was ironic. Sully’s “race” betrayed themselves. They destroyed their own resources and rather than realize that change was needed, they were more than willing to destroy yet another planet and all of the life on it. I felt that Sully’s experiences taught him that the “aliens” (the Na’vi) knew a balance he had never experienced on earth and he was willing to die to protect them from the destruction his own people had already proven more than capable of doing.
Sully had the opportunity to walk again by destroying an entire species, but instead he risked his life to save them. Did he get something out of the deal? Yes. He got a second chance in a body that was fully functional on a planet that was still rich with life and resources. But to do so he literally had to leave his old body and life behind. That sounds like a no-brainer, but when was the last time you changed your life even a little bit not alone left behind all that you knew. As Richard Bach wrote, “Change is the end of the world as it is.”
Quaritch might have been saying that they had given the Na’vi every chance to leave and any loss of life was their own fault since they stayed, but I failed to understand how the power to more rapidly kill gave him more right to their home than they had. If a bully tells your kid to just hand over all their money and possessions each day and they won’t get a beating, does it make the bully honorable? How about humane? If a robber does that to you, how about then? But if it happens to beings we consider alien, different than us, for any reason…somehow it becomes OK?
I enjoyed Avatar and think that it did an excellent job of making the blend between real world and digital creations almost unnoticed. That sort of creative expression along with the intelligence that makes it possible gives me some hope that maybe someday we will have learned to live in a way that doesn’t betray all of life on this planet.