Friday, January 15, 2010

15 / Avatar

Avatar is the second highest grossing movie of all time, which I assume means that many people have seen it. Its main philosophical focus is an exploration of the relationship (read "conflict") between the primal World of Nature and the technological world created by human beings. It's a movie worth thinking about.

In the movie, there are "humans" in each world. "The People," or "Navi," are the indigenous inhabitants of the World of Nature, and live in harmony with that world, being guided by and subjecting themselves to the creative Spirit which has brought the World of Nature into existence. Their relationship with Nature is accomplished by a direct physical link between their bodies and the Natural World. They are "plugged in" to Nature directly, which explains how they can so reliably harmonize their actions with what the World of Nature requires.

The other "humans" are invaders who have come to plunder the resources of the Natural World.  They look a lot like the  corporate/military/scientific inhabitants of the United States today, and are "alienated" from Nature, the opposite of being "plugged in." Some are more well intentioned than others, but all are representatives of a civilization that is built not on a sympathetic harmony between humans and the Natural World, but on a model in which the humans "conquer" the Natural World, stripping it of the resources needed to construct an alternate, human-built reality.

I am intrigued by the title of the film: "Avatar." This word has traditionally meant the incarnation of the Spirit in a visible body, often a body with human form. More recently, "Avatar" has come to mean an electronic image that represents and is manipulated by a computer user, and to which other computer users relate as if the "Avatar" were real. It is in this sense that we must first understand what the film means by "Avatar." Since they are having a hard time getting to the resources they want, given the opposition of the indigenous peoples, the invading humans have devised a plan to infiltrate the indigenous tribes, and in fact their consciousness itself, by creating "artificial" versions of the Navi, which appear to be "real" members of the indigenous community, but which are, in fact, very similar to computer "Avatars," mere images to be manipulated from afar by one of the invaders. 

One of these "Avatars," after doing extensive intelligence gathering for the invading humans, turns apostate, having fallen in love with the World of Nature (and, not quite incidentally, with a strikingly attractive Navi female). Unfortunately, being a mere "Avatar," this person has no independent ability to live among the Navi. He is totally dependent on the electronics and other apparatus in the non-Natural World for his continued ability to survive in the World of Nature. That is, until the end, in which his Avatar body is physically linked to the world of Nature in a religious ceremony participated in by the entire Navi community. In that ceremony, his artificial "Avatar" body is filled with the Spirit, and he becomes what might be called an "Avatar" in the original sense: a form which is nothing other than a manifestation of the Spirit itself.

If want to survive our own confrontation between the World of Nature and the human-created realities which we often think of as the "real world," neither technology nor fantasy is going to save us. This movie says that we must act collectively and that we will need, somehow, to find a way to leave technology and apparatus behind, and to be filled with the Spirit. Only by doing so will we be able to establish a reliable and effective connection to the World of Nature upon which we ultimately depend.

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