James Cameroon true to his genius, the mundane storyline and insipid script notwithstanding, has captured in 'Avatar', the techno-spiritual dilemma of this modern materialistic age.
Watching James Cameroon’s ‘Avatar’ in an I-max theatre was an astounding visual treat. The landscape and the jungles of the new planet, Pandora, were so exotically beautiful that I heard myself saying, “Oh my God, this is heaven”. If heaven were to be as overwhelming as this, then I would gladly exchange my earthly life for the heavenly one. In fact, at the end of the movie that is exactly what happens to the protagonist of the movie, Jake.
That being said, I should also state that ‘Avatar’ is closer to ‘Jurassic Park’ than to ‘Matrix’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’ in that it is more of a visual treat but hasn’t much of a storyline or an engaging script. So, past the 45 minute mark, by which time my eyes and optic neural network had gotten used to the novelty, it became more of a visual chore to endure the rest of the 2 and a half hours of cartoonish flamboyance. In fact, my colleague who sitting next to me leaned across and asked me if my eyes were getting strained, his were and he was getting a headache.There was something about the movie beyond the 45 minutes which kept me engaged. It was the realization that at some level, the movie was about a struggle between technology and spirituality. The whole plot revolved around an interesting kind of biological-spiritual mystery in Pandora which the non-spiritual but technologically superior human beings struggle to contend with. As I think about the movie, there are a couple of lines I can recall which, I think, give us little glimpses the Navi world view. One, “I see (into) you”. Two, “I realized that I had it backwards, I wasn’t sure what was the dream and what was real”. Before these lines are explored, a brief background is due.Humans want a rare mineral that the planet Pandora has. Navi, Pandora’s humanoid natives are extremely strong, blue bodied, arrow shooting, technologically primitive, spiritually mature nature lovers who whisper a prayer even before they kill an animal that they want to eat. They have no wish to trade their Mother nature’s mineral wealth with anyone. If there were to be military confrontation over the minerals, the primitive Navi would get wiped out by the human technological superiority. But the Navis have something special, their biological ability to ‘bond’ with the spiritual realm around them. Humans wanting to be politically correct, don’t want to destroy the inhabitants, but still want the mineral. To find a way to get the minerals, human kind has to understand the Navi. So they send in an ‘Avatar’ – a dream walker, Jake, who is actually a live human being’s brain activity harmonized into a cloned Navi body who can go, live with Navi as one of them, study them and give enough information back to the humans to help them decide on the course of action to get the mineral. Jake enters this community with his human brain and Navi body and in an attempt to win their trust, plugs into the spiritual realm and gets to experience the Navi spiritual harmony.Now, let us explore “I see (into) you”. When Jake is being trained by scientist to understand the Navi world view, he tells him, “if someone tells you ‘I see you’, they actually mean, ‘I see (into) you’”. They don’t see just the person. They see ‘into’ the person’s connectedness with the spiritual realm. In other words, the spiritual realm is a part of what they can sense. The biology of the Navis and other organisms in the Pandora is capable of connecting with the spiritual. In fact, Jake survives only because of a spiritual intervention early on. Just as a Navi arrow is about to be shot at him, the shooter senses that the Spirit Mother does not want him dead.As Jake, in his 'Avatar' role, goes back and forth between the two worlds, one where he is the earthling and the other as where he is the 'dream walker', he recounts, “I realized that I had it backwards, I wasn’t sure anymore what was the dream and what was real”. As Jake gets more and more plugged into the spiritual realm, he begins to wonder which of the two worlds is the real one. The one which is entirely non-spiritual? Or the one in which there is a harmony between the material and the spiritual? As the movies goes on, human kind decides to resort to the military solution and Jake has to decide which side he would be on. He knows that the Navi tribes cannot stand the military might of the humans, but having already ‘tasted’ the new spiritual realities and having found his sweet heart, Neytiri, he sides with the Navis and spiritually metamorphosises to becomes to the Navis what Neo is to Zion in Matrix, the One. It is at this point that Avatar's Trinity, Neytiri says, "I SEE you".I SEE Avatar as being closer to spiritual fiction than science fiction. I believe that James Cameroon is hinting at a clash of worldviews - technological superiority VS spiritual harmony. I see this movie as a reaction against the modern trend among human kind of considering technology to be having superior redemptive powers. The modern man yearns for the ability of technology to titillate him through the TV and he pursues the ability of technology to give him powers that he is physically incapable of. The more he uses technology to have his way, the more his biology gets conditioned to being estranged from the spiritual realm that beckons him.This techno-crazed generation, no matter how they would intellectually discredit the spiritual realm, they cannot help viscerally yearning for the spiritual. The yearning that isn't satisfied in the pseudo techno-solutions in real life, gets catered to in the realm of arts and movies through such spiritual fictions. James Cameroon true to his genius, the mundane storyline and insipid script notwithstanding, has captured in ‘Avatar’, the techno-spiritual dilemma of this modern materialistic age. I would suspect that this could probably start a new genre of spiritual fictions which may even usurp pure science fiction all together.