Monday, December 28, 2009

Spiritual Message in Avatar Movie

Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Thriller
Directorr: James Cameron
Screenplay: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Peter Mensah, Laz Alonso, Wes Studi, Stephen Lang
Soundtrack: James Horner
Length: 162 minutes
Budget: estimated $425 Million 

Plot: Jake Sully, a former US marine confined to a wheel chair, arrives on the moon Pandora on a unique mission as a replacement for his diseased twin brother. Soon, he becomes torn between his duty to follow orders and the need to protect and save the the civilization he was introduced to. 

Avatar - a long anticipated movie by James Cameron opened nationwide on the December 18th after four years of actual production process. Although the plot is not very original and rather predictable and the characters somewhat one-dimensional, the new technology especially developed for the movie takes the viewer into a new dimension. It is a unique, unforgettable cinematic experience, a visual extravaganza, if the film is watched in 3D. Spectacular images almost literally let one directly participate in the enchanting world of the Na'vi civilization. 

Avatar is the epitome of James Cameron's creative work. It is the director's Opus Magnum with a powerful environmental message that everything is interconnected. All beings are connected to nature and must respect its wisdom. Materialistic exploitation of nature brings doom to those ignorant of the fact that we can only survive in symbiotic connection with the environment. This is a timely message in the face of the continuous environmental destruction here on our planet Earth, where the need of technological progress and the urge to maximize profits alienated us from the wisdom of the indigenous cultures and that of our own ancestors.

The scenario is set in the year 2154. Most of the natural resources on Earth have been depleted through excessive and ruthless exploitation. A mission is set to use military force to conquer Pandora - a moon roughly the size of the Earth. Pandora is rich in an unique mineral that is desperately needed on Earth. Pandora is inhabited by a wise, peaceful, and nature-loving blue skinned beings who call themselves the Na'vi. They are warriors and ready to protect their habitat. They understand and respect their connection with nature. They worship a pantheistic deity they called Eywa. Their universe is reminiscent of the Buddhist concept of the Jewel Net of Indra as postulated by the Hwa Yen sect. Everything is interconnected. Everything forms an organic unity. Everything contains the Whole and is, at the same time, an inherent part of it. The Na'vi have the ability to transcend their individuality and see themselves as inherent elements of a bigger structure, a Gaia-like organism - the all encompassing global Consciousness. They possess neural connection fibers that allow them to connect to all other living beings on Pandora and thus become ONE with everything that lives. They are able to communicate with every living being on the planet and to access the collective memory of their race. They trust in the healing power of Nature and believe that all their energy is borrowed and has to be returned once they die.

In the Hindu tradition, avatars are the reincarnations of deities sent to save the mankind in times of great peril. In Cameron's movie, avatars are hybrid beings. They are genetically engineered Na'vi who are powered by the human consciousness that is temporarily transferred into their bodies. They were created by human scientists who intended to investigate the Na'vi culture. The project, however, is high jacked by a greedy corporation whose only intention is the exploitation of the planet's resources. A battle ensues and eventually, Jake Sully in the hybrid avatar body becomes a savior for the Na'vi. If we, however, look at this from a different perspective, Jake Sully is our avatar and here to save us, the viewers. He is here to open our eyes and save us as a race, a species, on the brink of self-destruction.
"I've wanted to make this movie from the time I wrote the treatment 11 years ago. I was just biding my time for when it was going to be technically possible. I'm so invested in the 3-D, and I love the challenge of creating an alien culture. We're creating a world from scratch, so it's really fun." James Cameron
James Cameron speaks on many levels. While depicting a fantastic culture, the film addresses a whole spectrum of contemporary issues:
  • Profit seeking corporation ruthlessly destroying both, environment and the indigenous cultures - the destruction of the Amazon jungles comes to mind immediately
  • Lack of respect for the habitats of other living creatures - urban and agricultural expansion to satisfy the needs of a senselessly uncontrolled growth of Earth's population
  • Controversial military expeditions to secure resources
The movie sends a powerful message to contemporary viewers. The senseless expansion and destruction of our environment has a butterfly effect. It affects all life on Earth. The wisdom that once was inherent to all cultures, was destroyed in the West with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Technological progress has its price as can be seen in the daily news and reports about environmental catastrophes in both, developed and developing countries. We became the invaders destroying our own habitat. Those who accuse Cameron of being anti-technology, anti-progress, and anti-human, missed the point. Our modern technology is a double edged sword. It has enormous potential to create and to destroy. If we as civilization do not collectively reflect on our attitudes and practices, we will have to pay the highest price - self annihilation. And we will not be the first civilization that died out. Cameron does not postulate that we have to give up technology. We have to learn how to use it to "defend" the environment in which we live.

Paradigm change is badly needed and there is a strong tendency to create new awareness. Jake Sully learns about the Na'vi culture and becomes a member of the clan in the body of an avatar - a genetically engineered being in which human DNA is morphed with that of the Na'vi. He undergoes a personal "metamorphose". He has to resolve his own inner conflict and make a choice. His transformation illustrates the evolution of the mind. He returns to the state of innocence integrating at the same time the knowledge and values of a human being. He is the wounded hero who undergoes initiation and emerges as a savior. 

There is a lot of optimism in Cameron's message as the good wins the battle against the ignorant. We can only survive as species when we learn to respect nature and the wisdom of our ancestors. And we must remember that we did not only inherit our planet from our ancestors. We borrowed it from our children.

By Dominique Allmon
Image credit here
Avatar Music From The Motion Picture Music Composed And Conducted By James Horner 
The Art of Avatar: James Cameron's Epic Adventure 
60 Minutes - Cameron's Avatar (November 22, 2009) 

Creative Commons License
James Cameron - Spiritual Message in Avatar Movie by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.