So last friday, mom calls me from office and says “Wanna go see Avatar?”
“Sure”, I say, “if we can get a ticket!”
So, we got the ticket and off we went.
3 hours and 30 minutes later, we emerged from the movie theater. Post the smiles on peoples’ faces, post the applause that the movie got that the end and post the “I like it” conversations we overheard, I began to wonder why the movie resonated so well with people.
Perhaps it did so because it spoke to their very cores. Perhaps even though the movie is set in some distant future on some distant planet and the main characters are some alien beings, the movie has an ethos which is purely ‘human’.
And yes, the movie has a few ‘moral’ lessons to offer all of us as well:
1. Even if you don’t understand a culture or even if a culture is different from yours, that doesn’t mean that it is bad.
2. Even if you have bows and arrows and are fighting guns and helicopters, you can still win a fight if you have strong, good, right motives and if you have an even interesting battle strategy.
3. Living in tune with Nature is the best way to live. Killing trees and plants is bad. Especially if you are doing that to get some random mineral.
So Avatar really rocks! But what rocks more is the metaphor packaged into the story of the movie.
The story of the movie may not be so much of a big deal – the plot is nothing new. What is new is its execution. We can really see where James Cameron spent all the $500 million. And we fall in love with it right away!
The blue skinned, 10 feet tall Na’vi are a wonderful people living in harmony with their surroundings. And what beautiful surroundings they are! Lush forests teeming with flora and fauna of indescribable beauty! All the fluorescent colors of the rainbow abound in the Na’vi forest.
As far as world building goes, James Cameron has set up a unique standard. Here is a world where the air is poisonous for human beings. But this is the fresh air that the Na’vi breathe. And while human beings consider themselves to be the ‘kings of the world universe’, these Na’vi people have bones made out of reinforced carbon. Did I mention that they are about 10 feet tall?
And yes, they have a tribal, clannish culture. Where every young man / woman has to undergo certain trials in order to become one of their clan.
And the choices that the women make are respected by the men: when Ney’tiri mates with Jake’s avatar, her ‘intended’ mate Tsu’tey expresses his discontent but doesn’t hurt / harm her. He inevitably accepts her decision. In fact, so do her parents. Hmm… interesting.
And most of all, they are all connected with each other via a very interesting network – the trees, the animals, the people – all of them.
The movie is essentially a metaphor that criticizes the choices made by human beings – the choice to destroy a civilization in order to plunder the natural resource on top of which they live. The choice to send in an army to kill people of a world and to steal something from them simply because we want it. And most of all, the choice to destroy a civilization to support ours.
Even the name of the planet ‘Pandora’ struck me as meaningful – in Greek myth, Pandora was the first woman and each God helped to create her, endowing her with some unique gifts. And apparently, it was she, who out of curiosity opened up a box that released all the evils of mankind.
So it wasn’t a surprise that in this movie, the planet Pandora was the place the human beings attacked because it held a great treasure – but once they attacked the guardians of that treasure, they ended up scattering all sorts of bad things into the air – eventually leading to their own defeat.
Even the name of the substance they hope to mine on Pandora is interesting: Unobtainium – pretty much meaning something that cannot be obtained. Although the metal sells for “20 million a kilo” – it has not been specified what the metal does. And it for the purposes of the plot, perhaps it is not so necessary to explain that right now. Perhaps if the great J.C. (James Cameron) decides to make a sequel, maybe, just maybe, explaining that might become necessary. Who knows?
Cut to the present scenario here in the USA – the economy is not doing so well. To quote a friend of mine, “the background music called ‘Recession’ is not ending anytime soon”. And then to top things off, there are American troops in places and countries where they pretty much have no business being. Sentiments are hurt, emotions run high. People here are going hungry, while millions of dollars are beings spent on a war effort whose tactical and practical outcomes are not understood by many among us – and even if they are, people are now asking “Is it worth it?”, “Can we not achieve this simply by asking nicely?”, “Do hundreds of innocent people have to die for this?”.
So, why do I think that Avatar will become a hit? Well, simply because in this kind of an environment, it creates hope and stirs the heart. The story with its universal themes of good vs evil, love vs hate, harmony vs war does strike a chord within the audiences. And yes, it helps that the entire movie is like a vision of other-worldliness which is fascinating, tantalizing and seductive.