Feb. 7th, 2010 08:23 pm
muchabstracted: (trickster)
[personal profile] muchabstracted
I enjoyed Avatar. The world, Pandora, was beautiful, and watching it in IMAX 3D was worth the price of admission all by itself. It doesn't hurt that the religion on Pandora was the sort I love to bask in: everything living has energy and is sacred, taken seriously, and seen with wonder. (Which is to say those of you do not share those tendencies towards that kind of thinking will probably roll your eyes a lot at those aspects of the movie; but it is very very pretty to watch while they are espousing these beliefs, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem.)

When the main character, Jake Sully, met the Omaticaya people (the indigenous tribe with which he became involved), they said to him that he could not "see". He asked them to teach him, to which they replied, "It is hard to fill a cup that is already full."

Jake responded, "I'm empty."

Oh boy, was that true. He meant that he had no knowledge of their world, unlike the other humans the Na'Vi had met, but it seemed to me it went beyond that. He had values -- courage, mainly, and some ingenuity in manipulating situations -- but no beliefs. He was a Marine, and at the beginning, he basically floated around following the CO's orders regardless of the fact that it meant he was betraying the Omaticaya people and the world of Pandora. He did and said what he could to try to complete the mission, without considering the larger implications or ethics. I wished, for the first part of the movie, that the Na'Vi had thought a little more about the character implications of Jake being empty enough to learn what they had to teach.

Unrelatedly? Jake's love interest was awesome and could totally have done better than him.

I spent some time thinking about Jake and his Avatar body. For anyone who did not see the movie, Jake can't walk -- he was in a car accident that left him unable to move his legs. He and the scientists had genetically engineered "Avatars" -- bodies that looked like the bodies of the Na'Vi people. Jake and the scientists would lay inside a box, and their consciousnesses were transferred to their Avatar bodies. There was some movie-related speculation on whether the Avatar body was as or more real than the (for want of a better word) real bodies. I found this interesting mostly in light of a chapter I had just read in the book, The Brain that Changes Itself. It discussed scenarios where our brains became confused by illusion, and our neurological maps and physical sensations were affected by fairly obvious tricks. (Read the book! It's great!)

I find I am not motivated enough to expound on this further. Call me if you want to know more, it's more fun to talk about than to type about it.

The best part of the conceit of the Avatar bodies is that it effectively turned Jake and the scientists into some version of the mythological figures that, like Davy Jones in Pirates of the Carribbean, keep their heart outside their body, and can only be killed if their heart is killed. The Avatar body can be killed -- but the actual person is still alive, inside their box. There are problems with the metaphor, of course. I will restrain myself from listing them. But I love the image of the person's life hiding in a box, far away from the physical dangers of the body's surroundings; and actually more fragile and defenseless, if you know where it is.

I spent the entire movie waiting for the Evil Technology Money People to destroy the lives of the Noble Savage Forest People. When that conflict actually happened, instead of cringing with annoyance at the trope or with anger at the villains, I found myself thinking about my clients' often antagonistic relationships with classmates or partners. We grow up hearing, "It takes two to fight." But, you know? That's not always the case. Sometimes, if one side is sufficiently determined or powerful, the other side doesn't have a choice. They can only capitulate or fight back.
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September 2010


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