Avatar, some thoughts - Journal of Omnifarious
Jan. 22nd, 2010
09:41 am - Avatar, some thoughts
I watched Avatar recently with a friend. And we came away with some very similar opinions and some very different ones. Predictably, it was the difference of opinions that stuck and we had a rather strident discussion about it.
I do not wish to be worried about spoilers, so I'm just putting this whole thing behind a cut and not worrying about them. If you don't want any, don't read it.
Here is my opinion of the movie...
Technically it's a fantastic movie. It uses CGI heavily, but very rarely does the CGI distract (aside from the fact that, you know, there aren't any 10 foot tall blue people in any reality I know of). It's smooth and realistic. Especially how things move. CGI so frequently makes mistakes in that arena. There were a few places in Avatar where things were just a little off, but it wasn't that noticeable and didn't happen that often.
The story is simple and predictable. But it grabs you all the same.
In my opinion, it's a black & white morality play. And if it suffers from anything, it's from the noble savage archetype. The Na'vi are everything in us that's good and nothing that's bad. They are on friendly, harmonious terms with their ecosystem. They mate for life (though, IMHO, this is a dubious quality with regards to how positive it is). They are largely egalitarian (except that men choose women, and rarely it seems the other way around), and they appear to not have any conflicts or wars of their own.
There are small things in the story that are very interesting details. The scientists, for example, are portrayed realistically and very well. I've never seen movie scientists that resembled the real thing so strongly. Hollywood usually hates and/or completely misunderstands both scientists and computer geeks. This movie definitely doesn't.
And life on Pandora is apparently part of an actual honest-to-goodness global organism. They don't have to imagine their Gaia in the myriad of interactions between different life forms in their world. Their Gaia (who they call 'Eywa') clearly exists in the form of a planet-wide neural network formed out of trees. Additionally, most forms of life over a certain level of complexity have a built in neural interface for connecting directly to Eywa or to each other.
The Na'Vi's harmony with their environment has a real physical basis in Eywa.
But I still think that the lack of flaws in the Na'Vi make it easy to idealize them and set them up on a pedestal. They are the great good we can never hope to achieve, and the most we can do is try in our own pitiful but nobly futile attempts. And additionally, we will have to give up all of our stuff, our material aims, in order to do it. They are the 'other'.
In the movie, the Na'Vi repeatedly call us 'blind' and 'ignorant'. They show no interest in our technology, in our medicine, in anything we have to offer them. They joyfully interact with their world seemingly without ever asking how it's all put together. All the boundless curiosity that teaches us so much and gets us in so much trouble seems to not be evident in the Na'Vi.
My friend came away with a hope that people would see this movie and see their own spiritual connection to the world around them. They would see the Na'Vi and be inspired to do better. I don't feel really qualified to go into what I think she sees further, because I'm not sure I completely understand it.
I think the movie does disservice to our attempts to be ecologically friendly. I think it makes the hope of living more harmoniously with our environment to be a remote hope that requires giving up all that we are to become something else. It's a distillation of the worst fears of those who say ecological friendliness will destroy our economy. In my opinion, learning to live in harmony with our environment will let us become greater, do more things, and have even neater stuff, not require us to live in trees and hunt with spears.
And that was the crux of our disagreement.