“Avatar” (2009). Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, Dileep Rao, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso. Director: James Cameron. Screenplay: James Cameron. www.avatarmovie.com.
Given the many challenges our planet faces today, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the only way we’ll resolve them is if we all cooperate to find workable, mutually acceptable solutions. And if those solutions one day call for us to go off-world to find the means to make their implementation possible, we had better learn that lesson first, for if our journeys connect us with the indigenous beings of such far-off planets, then the need for cooperation will multiply exponentially. Such is the lesson we should take away from the sci-fi fantasy, “Avatar.”
When paraplegic Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has a chance to begin his life anew, he grabs it. He’s offered an opportunity to work off-world on the lushly forested moon Pandora, where a mining consortium seeks to acquire the mineral unobtanium, a substance that promises to solve Earth’s energy crisis. But getting this precious commodity isn’t easy, because its richest concentrations are located in the homelands of the Na’vi, the moon’s 10-foot-tall, blue-skinned native inhabitants. Like many indigenous people, they have a strong tie to their land, communing with it as one, so they protect it fiercely against the advances of the human marauders, much to the mining company’s growing consternation.
This is where Jake comes in. He’s part of an operation known as the Avatar program in which hybrid beings created from a combination of human and Na’vi DNA are sent into the forest to interact as liaisons with the natives. Each avatar is linked to the consciousness of a human “driver” (like Jake), thereby making it possible for the avatars to engage the Na’vi with no physical harm to the humans directing their actions. Guiding Jake in his efforts are program director Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), fellow driver Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore), researcher Max Patel (Dileep Rao) and pilot Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez). Together they seek to engage harmoniously with the Na’vi, while simultaneously making it possible for the mining operation to move forward with its objectives. It’s all a very well-intentioned undertaking.
But despite such good intentions, the Avatar program’s progress is too slow for the mining company’s administrator, Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), and his army of mercenaries, led by Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). So, to help speed things along, Quaritch secretly promises Jake that, if he provides him with intelligence on how to infiltrate the Na’vi, he’ll arrange for Jake to get an expensive (but effective) surgery to restore the use of his legs. It’s an offer Jake finds hard to refuse.
All of that changes, however, when Jake engages the Na’vi through his avatar. While on a reconnaissance mission with his teammates, he becomes separated from them and must learn to deal with the natives one-on-one. Through his contact with the warrior princess Neytiri (Zoë Saldana), Jake learns the ways of this enlightened people and suddenly finds himself torn between which masters he must serve. He’ll ultimately need to choose, though, for the fate of Pandora—and two species—will depend on his decision.
“Avatar” is a film rich and diverse in its themes, all of which are delivered rather matter-of-factly, skillfully avoiding the pitfall of heavy handedly beating viewers in imparting its messages. In doing so, it draws inspiration from pictures as diverse as clash-of-cultures movies like “Dances with Wolves” and “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” to profit-at-all-costs films like “Aliens” (one of director James Cameron’s earlier offerings) to any number of movies with environmental messages and even the morality plays of the “Star Wars” series. It also has a potent metaphysical message about the intrinsic connectedness of all things, a keystone principle of law of attraction/conscious creation thought, and how we in the industrialized world have largely lost sight of that concept. But, perhaps most importantly, viewers are regularly shown through the experience of the Na’vi how the world around us originates from within, with our thoughts, beliefs and intents, an example we’d be wise to follow.
Having said that, though, I must add that, despite its many laudable thematic qualities, the picture’s story isn’t especially original. Its narrative is rather predictable, its characters are often one-dimensional, and its dialogue is at times a little trite and uninspired. But, given the mythic quality of the tale and the value of its attendant themes, it’s easier to overlook such shortcomings here than they would be in a lesser movie.
What “Avatar” may lack in plotline originality, however, it more than makes up for in artistic inventiveness. The film is visually stunning, with brilliant performance capture CGI special effects. Its breathtaking scenery and surreal landscapes resemble animated versions of Roger Dean album covers from the 1970s, taking viewers to otherworldly venues of resplendent beauty (one can now see why the Na’vi are so protective of their domain). Because of this, I’d recommend seeing the picture in the 3D or IMAX® versions, if possible.
Living in harmony is a goal that has always seemed to elude us as a species. The time has come now, as we begin a new year and a new decade, to set aside excuses about our failure to effectively pursue this goal, and “Avatar” provides a plethora of reasons for why we should do so. May we all come away from watching it with the resolve we need to get the job done.
Copyright © 2010, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
A lifelong movie fan and longtime student of metaphysics (with an emphasis in law of attraction/conscious creation principles), free-lance writer/editor Brent Marchant is the author of Get the Picture: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies (Moment Point Press, www.momentpoint.com). His additional writing credits include contributions to www.beliefnet.com and to Divine Revolution, Sethnet Journal and Reality Change magazines. Brent also maintains an ongoing blog about metaphysical cinema at www.getthepicturebrentmarchant.blogspot.com. He holds a B.A. in magazine journalism from Syracuse University and resides in Chicago. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.