On an intercontinental flight from Paris to Toronto, I chose to watch Avatar. It was an excellent choice. The film’s computer animation and special effects are spectacular. I was so engrossed in the movie, that the flight seemed to last not eight hours but eight minutes!
The 2009 science fiction film, produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau, is set in the mid 22nd century (1) when people, suffering from an energy crisis on Earth, are colonizing Pandora, a mythical moon in the Alpha Centauri star system, in order to mine unobtanium, a valuable mineral.
Because Pandora’s biosphere is poisonous to people, they can only visit while wearing special, oxygen masks. Without the mask, death comes within minutes. There is another way to visit, though, and this involves ‘transforming’ into an avatar that looks and feels like a native of Pandora, a Na’Vi, but in reality is a person specially selected by the Avatar Program to mentally project themselves from the base onto Pandora and into their hybrid, human avatar body.
The procedure to become an avatar and reach Pandora involves lying inside a capsule on a soft bed made of blue ‘gel,’ relaxing one’s mind and transforming, on Pandora, into a ten foot tall, blue-skinned avatar.
The Avatar Program, headed by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), is a research program whose aim is to study the Na’Vi and their environment. The Resources Development Administration (RDA), which mines Pandora for unobtanium, has a private security chief, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). His aim is to gather information about the Na’Vi in order to be able to chase the clan from Hometree, a giant, ancient tree where they customarily gather which happens to be the location richest in unobtanium.
Quaritch argues with Augustine about the destruction of Hometree. She wants to preserve it for future research; he wants to destroy it and the clan, who don’t want to leave, in order to obtain the unobtanium.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a former marine who is reluctantly accepted into the Avatar Program by Dr. Augustine as a bodyguard, ends up assimilating best of all to his new, avatar body. He is accepted by the clan; taught their traditions and ways; and falls in love and mates with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the daughter of the clan’s spiritual leader.
As the story progresses, Jake becomes increasingly attached to the Na’Vi way of life. He becomes increasingly disillusioned with his life on the base and more and more connected to the Na’Vi and their way of life. His affection for the Na’Vi and their planet deepens; and his allegiance gradually shifts from the interests of his race to those of Pandora’s native inhabitants.
Jake and Neytiri
After a mini mutiny, Jake, Dr. Augustine and a few others find themselves fighting on the side of the Na’Vi. It seems as though Quaritch’s weapons and firepower which, at one point, he describes as capable of producing ‘shock and awe,’ are no match for the natives’ bows and arrows. Through collective prayer at the sacred Tree of Souls to their mother goddess, Eywa, and unified strength, the Na’Vi fight hard, obtain supernatural help, and win the battle against Quaritch and his troops. The Thanators and winged, flying, dragon-like creatures called Ikrans assist in the epic battle.
Avatar depicts the age-old struggle between conquering nature versus assimilating with it. Cameron and Landau do a particularly good job of contrasting the militaristic, brutal, conquering mentality embodied by Quaritch with Pandora’s natural beauty, harmony and holistic integration of its inhabitants, divinity and resources. We are made to understand that the destruction of the Tree of Souls, directly connected to Eywa, will be a disaster of the highest magnitude. It will be disastrous on ecological, biological and theological levels.
The film is an excellent study in inter-species relations and is pedagogically instructional in how to approach extra-planetary civilizations that we may encounter in future.
I eagerly await the first sequel of Avatar scheduled for December 2017.
(1) References and some images for this blog post are taken from Wikipedia, Avatar (2009) film,
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(2009_film), accessed on July 10, 2015.