If you haven’t seen Avatar, you must – preferably in an IMAX theater. It’s Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Star Trek all rolled into one. Although I don’t think we’ll be able to transmit our beings through high tech crypts into the android form of an indigenous extraterrestrial by the year 2154, the film works as parable, as a stunning high-tech feat of genius, a political statement about unbounded American power, and as an unlikely, if not simplistic, love story. In 3D IMAX one is brought into the sublime world of Pandora, a planet whose inhabitants commune telepathically with their creator, Eywa through her creation. The Na’vi could be the Hopi, the Mayans, the Sioux, Papua New Guineans or some ancient, animist clan. The protagonist, a wheelchair bound Jake Sully, betrays his army colonel who promises him a new set of legs when he gets back on American soil. But his initiation into the Na’vi culture, and his rapid acceptance by them, turn him and his scientist cohorts into traitors who ultimately sabotage Team America’s mission to destroy and displace Pandora’s inhabitants and mine its fortune in minerals.
Avatar’s physical magic and beauty is matched by its primal story: white men of European descent for hundreds of years have exterminated and conquered indigenous peoples. By dehumanizing those who live simply and spiritually attuned to their creator through the earth, the conquerors have justified their conquests by seeing their subjects as sub-human savages. 25 million people died after Columbus sailed to the Americas, largely due to the spreading of European diseases, but also from a savage genocidal war against the native populations. The industrialization and wealth of the entire western world was not just a victory of man’s ingenuity and education, but on the backs of slaves, imported labor and forced resource extraction. Avatar is satisfying to the soul as a David and Goliath story in which bows, arrows and a Jurassic period assemblage of tough reptilian creatures defeat American firepower. As Inglorious Basterds fulfilled Jewish revenge fantasies for the Holocaust, Avatar is unapologetically against the U.S. war machine. The film touches the innate intelligence in every human being (are you listening Dick Cheney?) who would live in deep harmony with our natural world and other cultures if we were not so conditioned by our jingoist history.
A couple of friends who saw the film reported that it made them feel a deep love for our planet. And if we could see with the clear, uncluttered senses of the native peoples we have vanquished in past centuries, we would see our planet with the wondrous vision that the techno-geniuses who created Avatar gave us (with the help of 3D glasses, of course). The ecological truth of the film is also a very real future scenario – we devastate our own biosphere to the point where we colonize other worlds for ourselves. The problem is, Pandora is inside of James Cameron’s head, and if it does it exist, it’s so many light years away we’ll never get to it.
Better to preserve our own paradise before it’s too late –and that tipping point may be right now.
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