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.

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6 Responses to Avatar

  1. Jeanne G. says:

    I just saw the movie on Saturday, and enjoyed it also, but while it was beautiful and colorful visually, the story was a bit too black & white I thought. I recognized the elements of the Hero’s Journey (not to mention Boy Meets Girl; Boy loses Girl; Boy Gets Girl). Of course, James Cameron set it up so that the characters didn’t need a lot of nuance or inner conflict: the Corporate Greedmeister, the Mercenary Soldier(s), the Dedicated Scientists: Perhaps more stereotypes than archetypes.

    Sully did have to give up his home planet and the human “race” but what did he have to return to: An Earth with no green and no family? A pair of legs that when fully functional still wouldn’t take him places the Na’vi could go? How many people get to make that sort of clear cut choice? More realistically, he would have had family back on Earth – parents or children, or a sweetheart, and the choice would have been more complex, not to mention a lot tougher.

    The Colonel was portrayed as essentially emotionally bullet-proof. Nothing got through his armor of chauvinism, “patriotism”, machismo and love of power (especially fire-power), not to mention zero self-insight. The character certainly didn’t hold much interest for me, but I chafed at the way it was used to manipulate audience emotion.

    While i”Avatar” explored a subject we need never to forget – how easy it can be to rationalize genocide (which we’re still engaging in many places) – because it was so ham-fisted, probably anyone coming out of that movie pretty much had the same opinions as they held going into it. A good film actually would give an audience the chance to think and perhaps reevaluate.

  2. Jeanne G. says:

    (…phone call interrupted my thought)

    It was never explained – or I missed it – why the mineral was so coveted. What if back on Earth humanity had finally wised up, and “unobtanium” was the key to replenishing and revitalizing a despoiled planet? That would have provided an ethical dilemma more worth exploring than pure corporate avarice, along the lines of the classic, “Would you steal bread to feed your starving family?” What if Sully joining the Na’vi didn’t mean just the alleged “betrayal” but the extinction of his own species?

    It’s the prettiest movie around, for sure – and as far as flights of fantasy, I sure as heck wouldn’t mind being able to race through the treetops, ride winged beasts and be totally in tune with my own environment. Perhaps there’s no way for the medium of film to portray both stunning visuals and special effects while still exploring the complexities of human emotion, behavior, motivation and so on, but I would have enjoyed it more if Cameron had at least given a nod to those things.

  3. Caine Rose says:

    I had no inclination to see this film when I first heard about its release, however, after your soul-ful review, I have changed my position. Human evolution as well as spiritual evolution and furthermore, cosmic evolution are all realities that are often made sexy on the big screen, but a little out of grasp for the individual’s journey- the hero’s journey 🙂 Any narrative that invites us to reach within is worth exploring. Thank you for your review!


  4. Hi Jeanne,
    You brought up some good points. The reason I wrote the review was actually that some of the reviews I read considered the colonel the real hero in the story. For reasons I’m sure you understand, that bothered me. It was as though they were scared to criticize a marine. (I’m married to one, and fully believe that there is a time and place when fighting is appropriate despite my otherwise “tree-hugging” outlook.) For me it is never “what” can or can’t be criticized, but “who.” Sometimes the “what” makes the “who” even more important…it concerned me that people couldn’t/weren’t willing to make that distinction.

    I hope you enjoy the movie. There are some hokey moments and the superficial stuff that is often Hollywood, but buried in there are tons of elements of the hero’s journey. The movie didn’t expand upon some of the elements, but if you put yourself in the characters’ shoes, those elements come to life more easily. Plus, visually it is truly amazing…at least in 3D. (BTW, I owe you an email and will try to get to it by the end of tomorrow at the latest.) 🙂

  5. Avatar has lots of good teachings in it, and I love that Richard Bach quote. it’s one of his better inspirational quotes, in my opinion. There are always multiple perspectives. What is a betrayal to 1 is being true to purpose to another.
    Ronda Del Boccio

  6. Thanks for stopping by Ronda. Perspective certainly can change everything. 🙂

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