I recently saw James Cameron’s new film Avatar in I-MAX 3-D. It’s an intense experience, if for nothing else than being on an alien planet during a war for 2 hours and 45 minutes. Beyond luxuriating in the fantastical images, I came away with a lot of questions, uppermost being: Is Avatar telling a new story?
I am one who stands in the questions of: What is a new story? Is a new story possible? How would we recognize it? How would we tell it? In part I do this as a reaction to the preponderance of apocalyptic stories, which are present not only in the weekly tabloids and evening news but also in almost all of the worlds religions. Is there any other way we can go through the transition that seems so obviously needed besides destroying ourselves?
Avatar presents the idea, not fully revealed until late in the film, that the humans destroyed their green planet and that that are about to repeat that story on this new planet, intriguingly called Pandora, for the same reason they destroyed the first one, mining for energy sources to sustain human life divorced from earth.
We see a very classic set up. A dominator culture, in this case represented by the Corporation, attacks another culture for its land and resources and is prepared to annihilate everything in its way—people, culture, all sentient beings as well as all living plants.
This story seems endemic to human history. From the Huns, to the Persians, to the Romans, to the Hebrews, to the Christians, to the Muslims, to the Europeans–the dominator culture wins through superior weapons and subjugates the culture it has conquered. Almost all indigenous cultures succumbed to the pogroms of the European colonial era, except the Maori in New Zealand, who themselves had conquered an earlier more pacifist people. We in the Americas continued the trajectory and exterminated many of our own indigenous peoples for land, minerals, and other resources.
This story has “won” over and over again. Those who conquer carry a whole set of assumptions about why that happens. We’re better/smarter/more worthy/entitled. We need the ore/land/food/people for our survival/ego/pride. It is our “manifest destiny” to move out and flourish for our God. Who cares about who we kill, what we take along the way. They are not worthy, less than us, have no soul. They do no count. We do not need them. They are dispensable. They are things, have no soul or intelligence. They are inferior.
This is clearly the mindset or point of view of the Sky Beings, as they are called by the indigenous Na’vi. Within the space ship is a range of voices from curious and compassionate to utterly ruthless, but they all come from the same basic point of view. They are outside viewers and they want something. They are aliens to Pandora and Pandora to them.
Pandora for its part exaggerates the world view of a living universe, an it’s-all-alive, it’s-all-connected, it’s-all-relations point a view. The visuals of its livingness are intense; everything is larger than (our) life. It responds to touch, to footsteps, to sound. Some would even say it glows. It operates on a clan model of relationship and a sacred relationship to life.
I suppose one could say, and probably has, that this is a New Age point of view. It’s also more and more the point of view of new science. It’s the point of view of Rick Tarnas in Cosmos and Psyche. It’s probably the point of view of anyone who does think the earth is alive, we are all connected and we are related to everything. It is the point of view of anyone working to “save the planet” or working towards sustainable relationship of humans to the planet, anyone who understands or experiences humans as evolution becoming conscious of itself.
As the viewer, we get to look from the outside of our current situation and witness the war of worldviews. We can almost take each worldview in a different hand and weigh them. What are the advantages of the first one? The second one?
In Avatar, the Bioneers viewpoint wins and our hero crosses over from his old point of view to the new one. The aliens are sent back to their mechanistic world and the Na’vi go on with their idyllic if transformed life, as they have now incorporated the warrior nature of their attackers.
Is this a new story? Being fully committed to actualizing a new paradigm in consciousness where we recognize that it is all alive and we are all connected, I cheered at the win. Being a long time therapist and spiritual teacher, I reveled in the lush depiction of a soul-based world and championed Cameron’s ability to bring such a vivid world to the screen. I just plain loved it.
But I also left disquieted. The underdog side won in an age-old battle of points of view. But did we move out of the battle itself, the polarity of opposites. How does this encounter integrate into a next level that also recognizes all that has come out of the earlier point of view?
This is where I see us now. More and more people are getting that the universe is alive and growing and becoming conscious of itself, in part though us. The energetic healing ceremony in the Soul Grove is a real experience. Consciousness in plants is real. Non-local consciousness is real. We are beginning to understand that we are all connected and that anything we do to someone else actually does impact us.
But what does this mean when it comes up against the destructive power of what we have achieved since the scientific revolution. What do we do with the machines we’ve created and the modern world that arose out oft of “I think therefore I am”?
I can feel the joy that Jake feels when he is able to permanently relocate his now transformed consciousness into a new body that is extra strong and healthy and mobile. But I think our task will be to bring that transformed consciousness into our own bodies in our current world and create the integration here.
That would be a new story.
2 thoughts on “Is Avatar a New Story?”
thank you for this thoughtful look at Avatar. I agree with a lot of what you said… I thought for all the money in special effects, it would have been a better movie if the Na’vi had become real people instead of symbols: the maiden, the medicine woman, the chief, the rival… I lay awake a long time that night thinking of the film and realized I didn’t know the name of any of the Na’vi, and I sure wanted the characters developed more–what was the medicine that they understood??? How did the tribe govern itself? –I guess I am still in Lord of the Rings mode, where the books give us a world to explore with languages and cultures and different habitats and landscapes and talents for survival (and destruction) that have to work together to succeed for good or ill. Now, was that a new story? Or war of the worlds in a different landscape?
Anyway, I am thinking along with you.
If we recognize film as a new medium of the mythos, Avatar is perhaps a parable no different in it’s story from many that have gone before as I think you suggest.
The medium however is changing – rapidly.
What struck me most deeply in this visually lush film, was the capacity we have to imagine (and therefore create) beauty – that luminous forest, those elegant people – are among us of course. I have seen and felt deeply, if through a shimmering veil, how much beauty is present if we chose to see/co-create it.
Perhaps the purpose of any story (new or old) is to hold up a mirror to reveal our choices. If this is an old story in a new medium – it’s a good one, hopefully waking us (read a brainwashed mainstream) up to the possibilities.
The machines you mention, I think are tools, like the printing press, or the internet, or transportation – can be used for common good/expression or for coercion/manipulation. It’s the mindset of the old-school patriarchy, the corporation, that we might sidestep to avoid being complicit, by decentralizing and supporting one another in community locally and globally – a new era of partnership? Let’s dream it!