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Avatar (Special Edition)

Avatar (Special Edition)

By Patrick Samuel • May 17th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
AVATAR: SPECIAL EDITION (MOVIE)
20th Century Fox

Original release: December 17th, 2009
Running time: 171 minutes

Writer and director: James Cameron

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez , Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Lang

Avatar

A James Cameron film is an event we now usually associate with record breaking box office receipts. Yet for all its action I was more drawn to the ecosophy of Avatar and was curious to see how it fit with the work of a Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess. Avatar is set in a future far away where Earth is no longer our only home. With its resources exhausted, humans have been exploring other worlds with technologies beyond our wildest dreams. One of these worlds is Pandora; inexplicably beautiful and filled with natural wonders, it’s a place that exists solely because of the delicate balance between its inhabitants (the Na’vi) and their environment.

That is, until humans arrive, intent on excavating its sacred land for a rare mineral known as “unobtainium”. Using “Avatars” (Na’vi human hybrid bodies) a team, headed by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) is deployed to Pandora to obtain samples and learn more about the natives. Among them is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), the least skilled of them all, but he is fortunate enough in his ignorance to be taken in by Na’vi to learn more about them.

Over the course of three months, Jake reports his finding back to the team and the security forces. Knowing that they will move the Na’vi by force if he cannot get them to do it voluntarily, Jake hopes to buy more time while trying to become a fully fledged member of the Omaticaya clan. The humans’ efforts to offer education, roads and medicine have previously failed so the only hope of a peaceful agreement lies with Jake.

Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the daughter of the Omaticaya clan leader, is assigned to train Jake in the ways of their people. Inevitably, a cross-species romance blossoms between them. As time runs outs, Jake is unable to negotiate their resettlement and his betrayal of the Na’vi people puts not only his relationship with Neytiri in danger, but also Pandora. When the forces move in, destruction ensues on a massive scale. Like the dying Earth they left behind, the humans leave a trail of smoking debris, dead bodies and wounded planet in their wake.

Avatar

With its impressive 3D and special effects aside, Avatar is a love story but it also tells us much about nature vs. culture, putting forward an argument for Deep Ecology. The cultivating of an environment for anthropocentric or technocentric purposes will always leave it a barren wasteland, eventually unable to sustain itself far more its population. Deep Ecology is branch of philosophy developed by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in 1972 which postulates that nature has intrinsic value and that richness and diversity of life forms are values in themselves.

In Avatar these ideas are illustrated most clearly when Grace learns how the neural network relies on all living creatures thereby giving Pandora its power. While the Na’vi are able to tap into the stream of information and access data (i.e. memories) from their ancestors, forming a mental link with other lifeforms, the humans want to dig the land for unobtainium for its financial rewards for them, rather than something that has ecocentric value they can all share. Later on we see a glimpse of how diverse and rich the life forms on Pandora are and how they are valued by the Na’vi not for what they give to them, but because they exist and are part of the same network they all share.

The garden scene with the Woodsprites (airborne jellyfish) is inexplicably beautiful and captivating but there are so many other life forms as well on Pandora to marvel at including the Helicoradian (Loreyu in Na’vi), a zooplante with a red spiral leaf that can grow to 25 feet in height. They respond to touch by recoiling and retracting.

There’s also the Tree of Souls (Ayvitrayä Ramunong in Na’vi) which the Na’vi use to communicate with the biological network that exists throughout Pandora and the Tree of Voices (Utral Aymokriyä in Na’vi).

Cameron described the Tree of Souls as “a big input-output station” and its design was inspired by the bioluminescence he encountered during night diving. In part, these sequences also recall of Baraka (1992) and Koyaanisqatsi (1982). All three films share in their depiction of the (im)balance between civilisation and nature.

Avatar is visually stunning in its representation of tribal life and their connection to the natural world, but unlike Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi, the majority of what we see on screen is created digitally.

Deep Ecology though is only one of the topics which Avatar brings up. Another is the need for us to eventually leave planet Earth. In a recent article at Big Think, physicist Stephen Hawking says:

“I see great dangers for the human race. There have been a number of times in the past when our survival has been a question of touch and go. The Cuban missile crisis in 1963 was one of these. The frequency of situations like this is likely to increase in the future. We shall need great care and judgment to negotiate them all successfully. But I am an optimist. If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries our species should be safe as we spread into space.”
SOURCES:

  • Stephen Hawking, Warning: Abandon Earth—Or Face Extinction (2010) Big Think Ideas
  • Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered (1987) Gibbs M. Smith Inc
  • Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (1993) Cambridge University Press

Hawking may be looking far ahead, but the dangers we face are very much here in the present and the near future. Global warming, excess of population, dwindling resources, asteroids and nuclear disaster are just some of the dangers we’re facing but do we really have a clear plan for survival should a worst case scenario present itself? We will not be able to save everybody but in the end, so for the advocates of the ultimate exodus, it’s about the survival of the human species, not the individual being.

The question remains, what will we take with us? Will we learn to adapt to our environment or will we still continue to adapt the environments we encounter to our needs and wishes? If we’re to learn anything from Avatar, surely it has to be that we cannot continue as we are. Like Hawking, I’m in favour of mankind spreading out into space, but with Deep Ecology and Avatar in mind, I hope when we get there, we won’t be the humans we see in movies today.

Avatar

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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