Sunday, January 10, 2010

AVATAR and you, and me

At the fifth viewing of AVATAR to a packed audience more than 3 weeks after the initial release, the effect had not dimmed - and this audience [certainly not early adopters] applauded. My companions had seen the flick twice and three times respectively. Well, perhaps there were early adopters. I was one of the first to see it, since I'd gone to a press screening and the advanced 15 minute clip months earlier.

I've wondered what the power of this flick is? I mean, surely having seen it 5 times means it's had a particular impact on me? I went into the cinema thinking that, but during the show I suspected that it has a more generic appeal. The engineering, the detail, the music, the ethos, it's all visionary.

I've heard some criticism. It may be valid. I've heard of the odd person walking out. I'd really like to put some of those people on a stage and try to understand them. They're probably the sort of people who find flaws with anything, and perhaps their resistance to AVATAR is a juvenile - even subconscious effort - to attract attention. Maybe they have a valid reason - a brother obsessed with computer games, an abusive father with blue tattoos?

Some reviewers - few though - fall into this pattern. Check this out:

Bad enough are the eco-cliches, the platitudes about the grandeur of nature, the stereotypically evil corporation, the awful dialogue, the gaping plot holes. Worse is that the film's premise actually makes no sense.

From the outset, the Na'vi know that Sully is an avatar remotely controlled by a human. So why trust him? Teach him their ways? Tell him their secrets? Initiate him? Even have sex with him?

And if the company owns and operates the avatar program - an explicit story point made early in the film - how is it possible for Sully to turn traitor and lead the Na'vi against them in battle? Why don't they just hit the off switch?

I assume this reviewer thinks he is very astute? The flick has some imperfections, for example aliens kissing in a very human way. Let's not forget, it's a story made by humans, about aliens, for humans. If you want to stick to an entirely scientific realism, then you're making a wildlife documentary about alien life on far off worlds. So I have an idea these remarks about a weak story line are off the mark by a long way. Story is important, so is the emotional tension. Cameron excels at both. Think of Aliens, Terminator, The Abyss. Cameron's no slouch when it comes to story. And that AVATAR can stand up to 5 viewings proves this.

What did AVATAR mean to me?

In the beginning, Jake Sully [Worthington] admits that a hole as been blown through his life. He has lost a brother, and his legs. He is dreaming about flying, about being free, about having something may more than ordinary mobility restored, he's dreaming really of a sort of resurrection.

In AVATAR one of the themes is awakening, and resurrection - put simply - waking up. On two occasions at least, Sully voiceovers: that sooner or later you have to wake up. Waking up is often a revolutionary act. Waking up is all about dealing with a personal and objective reality - if these are congruent it can be particularly painful.

I believe on a certain level, particularly in 2009, I share Jake's sense of immobility. Sitting behind a computer for hours on end - how is that different to being paralysed in a wheelchair. To take the metaphor further, a friend and I have trained hard recently for the half Ironman, an event that comprises a 21km run at the end. Both of us have suffered from what is called Plantar Fasciitis. It's kind've a pain on the outer rim of the foot. Both of us also have calf pain. Neither of us are particularly unfit or overweight. But cycling sit perpetuates the whole theme of sitting down. Running is a load bearing activity - and both of us have realised that our muscles - for running - have atrophied significantly, and that cycling muscles are much weaker than running muscles.

So I feel a sense of shared frustration - being physically constrained, being unable to move in a way that I once could, and yes, this probably presents itself as echoes of youth. I know that I feel that sense of lost youth very strongly, which I think underlies AVATAR very powerfully. Youth being a metaphor for the abundance - in general - of life. This - we know - is not only true on a personal individual level, but as a species, we also know that we have ruined our own hopes and prospects despite being given a beautiful planet and plentiful opportunities, and resources, once upon a time. I believe the knowledge has sunk in that we have blown, abused that opportunity, and that we are now moving beyond a point of no return, or at the very least, a point of radical departure from the world we once knew. The future may be a world with vastly different weather, and we may move about the landscape differently. It's likely to include more hardship, inconvenience and difficulty than we're used to.

In AVATAR there is also a theme of trust and betrayal. In parallel. Sully is entrusted with a task, he betrays Grace, then tries to save her. He serves the military and the company, then tries to betray/destroy them. And of course, the core of all this is his relationship with Neytiri. This is the heart of the film, and if you think there is no story - well perhaps look under your own dashboard and check your heart. Is it beating?

The music, the motifs, brilliantly elicit a companionship not only within a community, but how this connects with nature. There is a progression - a process involved. Both in reaching the point where Unobtaniun can be mined, in Jake's training as an AVATAR and let's not forget, his ultimate resurrection as a warrior - something he once was. But he becomes more than a warrior, he becomes a lover, a leader, if not a scientist someone who now understands science. In short, his humanity is resurrected. This I feel is the core that resonates with individuals and generic audiences. I think as consumers, this message is sorely needed, and keenly felt.

I know many people who shed tears in AVATAR, and let's face it, it's not an obvious tearjerker like Titanic. The reason AVATAR is so effective, is that it calls to our common humanity. It's a call we all need to hear now, and now more than ever.

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