My Avatar review was originally posted to Death By Hippopotamus. There, an anonymous commenter responded with the following:
Dylan, I’m sorry, you’re way off on this movie. Yes the trippy graphics are amazing, but it’s not just for the sake of being pleasing to the eye. It actually has a place within the movie that’s not just extra, it ties the movie together. The movie is about the symbolism. It’s the spiritual awakening of Jake. He’s helping his brother out (a strong theme), because his brother was killed for the paper in his wallet (another strong theme), and he gradually makes the transition from the harsh physical world (where he doesn’t have the use of his legs) to the spiritual world, where he is free to move about. The deposit of unobtanium at the base of home tree is not a literal deposit of substance, it’s metaphorical, it represents the Na’vi’s superior spirituality, that the rest of mankind wants, but can’t obtain (yes-unobtainable), because they are trying superficial ways to get it. The tree is also a metaphor, it represents the community and the interconnectedness of it. And at the end when Jake is fighting off the colonel, and the princess of the na’vi shoots the arrows into the colonel, but not after he breaks the barrier between the mobile pod, suffocating Jake’s real body, and the princess saves him, and Jake is in her arms, that was a really powerful moment for me, because it represented Jake being saved because of his faith. And the ending, where he is fully transferred into his avatar body, and it ends with his eyes opening, it was like he was awakening, or being enlightened. It’s all tied together by the colour blue of course, because blue is the colour of space as we see it from Earth. It represents equilibrium. Remember Eywa protects equilibrium. Theoretically, if everything was stripped down to it’s core, if the equilibrium was fully restored, and Earth was no longer, it would all just be blue. And at that point, people would not care about material anymore, they would only care about spirit and faith. Well, people wouldn’t exist, but it’s theoretical remember. Anyways, that’s what I got out of the movie and I’m sure there’s more to it. It says so many different things without even saying them, and once you start realizing them, you make connections and you begin to realize how amazing this film is. Watch it again.
The following was my response, too big to fit into the original comments section.
First off, I want to say that I’m really excited about this thread so far. It’s the first time that people have really gotten in and disagreed (particularly with me) and I can say that my understanding of the film has certainly deepened, if not improved.
Now, to respond to some of the specific comments:
1) “He’s helping his brother out”: The way I saw it, he was recruited into the program, and his involvement was only by the sheer happenstance of genetic similarity with his brother. He goes to Pandora in order to serve his own purposes, to experience usefulness since his accident.
2) “Killed for the paper in his wallet”: I’ll give you that one. This is certainly a great introduction to the kind of humanity that we are dealing with in this film. People are selfish and greedy, and no amount of education or intelligence (as represented by the brother being the “smart one”) can save you from someone who wants what you’ve got.
3) “Mak[ing] the transition from the harsh physical world to the spiritual world”: Is it really? Granted, it provides the opportunity for Jake to feel free and more like himself when he has regained the ability to move his legs, and once that sense of self is re-aligned, it does allow him the ability to concentrate on his spirituality, rather than his physical limitations. I would, however, argue against simplifying Pandora by calling it “the spiritual world.” So much of his experience amongst the Na’vi is based on learning the physicality of their existence. He learns to hunt, how to dominate, and how to fuck like a Na’vi, and then all of a sudden, when he kills his prey, he says a hollow prayer. In that second, we are supposed to accept that he now spiritually connected to these people? He is, at this point, mimicking their rites in order to gain acceptance. At no point, until he has sex (and sure, let’s even call it a spiritual connection), does he show remorse or any kind of real internal interest in the Na’vi’s (or his own) spiritual well-being.
4) “unobtanium… represents the Na’vi’s superior spirituality that the rest of mankind wants, but can’t obtain… because they are trying superficial ways to get it”: So, which is it? Are humans truly driven by greed (as suggested by your point before about the brother’s death) or is it some kind of Freudian absence thing, where we’re trying to mine a world of its physical resources because our own God didn’t love us when we were young?
5) “superior spirituality”: I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with this claim, although I am skeptical of it. The Na’vi may have a superior spirituality, because of their ability to recognize the interconnectedness of life, but it is greatly facilitated by a direct (and let’s not forget, electrical) connection to their deity. Eywa responds directly to prayer. Even though Neytiri says that that’s not how things work, Eywa nonethless gets involved and protects the people over whom she watches. The argument can be made that humans have the same connection (through prayer) but that is a matter of faith, and not something that is going to be settled in this thread. It is undeniable, however, that this deity consciously disrupts the usual order of things in order to act in the interests of her people. So, yeah, in that respect I still agree that it is a superior spirituality.
What I do have a problem with is that Eywa acts by removing the free will of Pandoran rhinoceroses and forcing them to act as agents for Pandora’s protection, rather than for their own self preservation. Noble? Yes. But this kind of dominating (a strong theme) deity, is the sort of God that only respects personal freedom to a point. Freedom, and the ability to chose one’s own destiny, is considered by many to be the greatest gift (Judeo-Christian) God gave to man. Even Jonah still had a choice (although God didn’t make it easy). Eywa, on the other hand, commits these animals to their deaths. I realize the fact that they are animals complicates the matter, and it would have been silly to have Eywa talk to the rhinos, and have them vote as to whether or not they should fight, but I don’t think that it would be the normal behaviour of any animal to stampede, in great number TOWARD the sounds and chaos of a gunfight. So, I guess the superiority comes down to whether you would rather have a God whose gift of freedom eventually gets mankind into the shithole situation of the humans in Avatar, or whether you would prefer a deity who, in times of crisis, will override personal freedoms (feel free to read “Patriot Act”) for the greater good of the community. I don’t know which I would chose, either.
6) “powerful moment… because it represented Jake being saved because of his faith”: I agree that this is a potentially powerful moment, although I don’t think Jake has anything to do with it. What I really liked about this part, was that Neytiri was the one who killed the colonel. As convenient as it was to have a human save most of the day, it would have been unforgivable if Jake had been the one to triumph over the Na’vi’s greatest foe. Neytiri, not Jake, was entitled to be the ultimate saviour of her planet. It also created a nice bookend to her almost shooting Jake at the beginning.
I also don’t think that Jake is saved by his faith. He is saved by the fact that his need for oxygen brought him close enough to the aspirator for Neytiri to figure out how to save him upon discovering his body.
7) “blue is the colour of space as we see it from Earth”: I don’t necessarily buy into much colour theory, but I’ll give it a whirl. Blue is not the colour of space, it is the colour of the sky, and, if we’re playing this game, there’s a crucial difference. The blue colour of the sky is caused by sunlight being scattered by the air (at least according to Wikipedia). Therefore, the blue colour only exists because of the presence of the Earth, not in spite of it. If “Earth was no longer,” as you suggest Pandora is meant to represent, it would all be black, and the Na’vi would look like the Africans from a Tintin comic.
I’ll accept that Cameron used blue because it’s got kind of a natural vibe to it, further engraining the connection between the Na’vi and their planet. I’m more inclined to think that it’s (again) because it looked good. Watch it again.
In closing, I would like to give some credit to James Cameron that I failed to mention before. There is something that this movie does incredibly triumphantly, and that is in creating its own world. Pandora is a unique celebration of human creativity, and, if the intent of the film is to simply create an immersive, escapist junglescape, then it’s more successful than I’ve acknowledged.