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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Am I Blue?

I went to Avatar determined to like it in spite of the fact I was aware I might not. I knew only that it was a special-effects miracle with a New-Age-green message delivered by some tall blue people. This is not my usual cup of tea.

But I’m reading a book by an old friend on the philosophy of Spinoza, and he sent me a review of the movie that suggested some shared meaning between the great 17th Century thinker and this 21st Century futuristic fantasy. From what I have learned so far of the philosophy of Spinoza (with whom Albert Einstein is said to have agreed) it is basically that what we refer to as God is not so much a human-like entity but rather a sustained connection of all living things. This led me to the movie house expecting, if not enlightenment, a bit of direction toward a spiritual path.

You don’t have to tell me I was asking too much from a film by James Cameron. I know his wildly successful Titanic was dismissed by many as predictable and melodramatic (what else, from a story whose ending we all know, revolving around such idealized fictional romantic characters?), but its ending was one of the most exhilarating moments I have had in a movie ever, and I thought this one just might give me a moment or two like that.

It did, once I got used to the blue people with their white-flecked flat-nosed faces. I was utterly transported by the flora and fauna of Cameron’s forest. I wanted to walk there forever. I loved his floating blossoms that looked like jellyfish and thistles. I loved his hideous monsters who must be fought to be tamed (the scene when the protaganist has to ride his glorious dragon and bond with it was almost painful in its handling of spectacle and phantasmagorical realism). The villainnous villains, in this case the Marines and corporate executives, were a little extreme for me, but then I always liked Oz better than Kansas too. Like Jake Scully, I wanted to go back.

I saw that these blue people didn’t pray to their God to help them win wars because they had an understanding that that was not "her" job; I saw that they were connected to the animals because they bonded with them and seemed to read their minds. However, I don’t see that as pantheism or Spinozism or any religion that I know of. Some say their connection to the “land” symbolized the spirit of the Native American people. Perhaps, but I think there is a great deal that we do not know about the religion of the Native American people (at least I don’t) and that idealizing it is a little too easy. If on one level Avatar is an allegory about our ravaging of the planet and every planet we discover, well, it does make that point, but as only a footnote in the film. If it is an indictment of the military-industrial complex, that’s not big news—President Eisenhower started that in 1961.

So none of the messages of the movie moved me much. On the other hand, the special effects were astonishing—and I have to tell you here that I didn’t even see it in 3-D; it was too hard to get a ticket at short notice. It’s a beautiful film, and one that will without question influence future filmmakers. It may affect some of the audience with its philosophy, as those of a more Conservative political persuasion than I are suggesting, and it may even open some young eyes, but I think what will last about the movie is what lasts about all good movies. It moves its audience to a place they’ve never been.

Spoiler alert: I had one niggling problem with the story, and I say niggling because I’ve not seen it mentioned in another review so it must not be very important. In the climactic scene when the blue princess saves the dying Jake, I almost said aloud, “You mean she knew all along she was in love with an avatar? She knew that human lying on the floor was him, needing to be revived with that air mask?”

So I was forced to suspend disbelief. That’s part of the agreement we make with any moviemaker when we walk through the door, particularly a movie like this. You expect a little preaching and probably a couple of hidden agendas that are hardly hidden. It won’t convert you to pantheism, or to Spinoza’s concept of a connecting substance underpinning all living forms, but it will decidedly take you on a trip you have not seen before outside your best dreams.

A nice innovation was the appearance of the title instead of “The End,” The soul is transferred from crippled human to tall blue warrior, its yellow eye opens and we are told we have just seen Avatar. There is applause in the theater.

15 comments:

Barry said...

Glad you liked it, now go see it in 3D! I thought the Na'vi knew about Avatars, that "demons in false bodies" scene (or something to that effect). It seems to me that "God", to them, was the collective consciousness of all living things. We merely need to develop the ability to "connect to the grid", something I've always believed. Barry

mullet man said...

There are some who claim to stay 'connected' and '3-d' on a continuing basis. Real people, not fanatics of any ilk or explanation, seem to just know stuff. They are non-stereo-typed by race ,age or socio-economic pigeon-holing or any other means of definition. They are people who have traits of many animals (or avatars even)yet
no trait so strong as to disconnect from the matrix of life. These are people that regular people genuinely want to be near for no other reason than to absorb some of whatever it is that makes life life. The closeness is not like that of a flambuoyant idol or miracle worker.
It might be a closeness to get connected to the mentioned collective consciuosness. Many of todays' tomorrow's parents, teachers, politicians, leaders have no such capacity having missed something in human development. Something missed due to "progress" . Avatars are mere
symbolic representations of reality, yet some may believe in them as actual, if even in imagination. HUH? Well, there ya go, if nobody else knows what reality actuality is , then any expression of it will suffice....
and be believed.

The movie is bound to be an impressive visit to technology..for the time being anyway....Once Robbie Robot was that. I'll see it sooner or later.

Mary Lois said...

Barry, I'm sure I missed something the first time around. Now that you mention it I did hear something about demons in false bodies--but it's a stretch that she would have known the human body of Jake when she saw it. On the other hand, everything in this one is a stretch, so why should I worry about that little bitty point?

Since I missed so much I need to see it again, in 3-D this time.

I need to connect to the grid, too! Sometimes I get lost in details. My brain gets in the way.

Benedict S. said...

I think the blueness of the blue people (Na'vi is essentially Hebrew for prophet) speaks directly to reality. Compared to the way we know ourselves, our knowledge of others might just as well make them "blue people." That fact of the way things are between us gives language a function of deep psychological usefulness. By our "speaking" we're attempting to reveal ourselves more directly to others. Obviously, we have not succeeded to any great degree.

I doubt that Cameron had that thought in mind, but then great art always speaks beyond its intent. I am, however, quite sure he intended us to understand that all of Nature -- not just the "living" -- speaks. There is only one God, one Nature, and he/she/it is all-that-is, including rock stuff. After all, if the language-game we know as evolution theory is on target, then our ancient ancestors were made of star-stuff. We were not in fact separated from Nature/God by becoming human, even if our inner-voices seem to be telling us we were. We have alienated ourselves, not in reality, but only in our ideas. We remain integral, and unless we wake up to that fact, until we begin to act like vital parts of Nature/God, we will continue to dissolve as self-reflecting beings. We will return from whence we have unfolded. God plays no favorites. He is the purveyor of ultimate justice.

K Bigelow said...

Of course she knew he was an avatar from the first time she saw him "abusing" the local fauna! Their relationship developed because her father volunteered her to "teach" him Na'vi ways...remember the first half of the movie?

I waited to see it in 3-D and in Imax. I knew it would be astounding based on everything James told me. (Not directly...)

As for the story line, the characters develop inside the typical box with 4 unoriginal corners: corporate/industrial greed, human/individual value, belief in the omnipotence and worth of a higher power, and an opposing belief in the omnipotence of one's own strength and vigor.

James' achievement here was not in the story itself, which was skilled journeyman work, but in inventing and building a new technology delivery system. From your comment, "Like Jake Skully, I want to go back," his experiment was a success with you even at less-than-optimum conditions.

I strongly urge anyone who hasn't seen it, and those who merely went to a standard 2-d movie theatre already, to see it on an Imax 3-D screen. Buy a ticket online in advance and guarantee yourself something beyond what we've always known as "movies".

Mary Lois said...

Clearly, K, I need to see it a second time. I missed much of the exposition. And I totally missed the effect of 3-D.

Jimmie Cameroon said...

I'll second the Imax (not merely 3-D) movie theater experience if you can find one locally...NYC has several. (And Hoboken none. So there.)

The difference in ticket price is completely worth it not just from a technology standpoint, but by overall audience quality. In a time when we can all wait a couple of months and rent the movie for a buck or less, spending big bucks to see something in a theater is becoming a luxury. To opt in only to be bothered by cellphones, noisy babies, unsophisticated troglodytes and the like, can drive a true film buff to commit acts of mild violence.

Imax provides more of an actual Theater Experience. The elevated ticket price serves to keep out all but the sincerely interested, and is easily rationalized when the movie delivers on the visual.

Avatar rewrites the visual book.

Mary Lois said...

How would Jimmie Camaroon know that there's no IMAX in Hoboken? Something in his tone suggests he may work for IMAX!

At any rate I leave for Fairhope, Alabama. for the month of February and shall look for the nearest IMAX around there. Maybe I'll take in this flick a second time, y'all!

Jimmie Cameroon said...

And good luck on finding an Imax in Farhope! Does Alabama have any indoor movie theaters?

H. Ted Lesher said...

I want to see it, too. Meanwhile, catch up on your Native American history. Do some Peyote! Make a nice mushroom dish for you and some friends. Invite me!

Benedict S. said...

There's much to be said for the idea that Avatar's story fades beneath the power of its technology, but that does not mean that the story is without unique value. Even if Cameron had told his story only in 2-D his film would have had something of more than an incidental claim to intellectual interest.

Of course, I'm a shade biased in promoting Avatar as a think piece. Several of my friends, including the writer of this blog, have told me that the film speaks directly to the philosophy I espouse in my book "Spinoza's God." [One of those same friends tells me I should mention at every opportunity the name of the online bookstore where my book can be purchased, so I will . . . www.alondrapress.com.]

And while I may be pushing serendipity to its limit, I also see a strong connection between my book and one of the many themes running through Dan Brown's latest novel, "The Lost Symbol." Noetic science is clearly grounded in Spinoza's most iconoclastic propositions, "The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things." If there is in fact a physical counterpart for every idea, then it follows that it is possible for individual thoughts to have physical effects on things. There is a point at which noetics runs afoul of my ideas but enough commonality remains for folks (other than me) to see a resemblance.

Like the lady said, "Your book comes at a fortuitous point in time." We shall see.

Mary Lois said...

To check out Benedict's way to connect Avatar with the philosophy of Spinoza, read his blog or his new book Spinoza's God.

Carolyn said...

We saw AVATAR in 3D, but not IMAX.
Completely different way of seeing a film. I was not a Titanic fan, nor do I like special effects......BUT....this was completely different.
James Cameron said, "if I throw a golf ball at the camera, you immediately remember you are WATCHING a 3D movie, I wanted people to ENTER the film". Well, he did it!!! And the story, on so many levels. American history, Terrorism....(this time Americans were the terrorists). When they destroyed the holy tree, I thought of Sept. 11. Simple but lovely Love story. ML, it really must be seen in 3D.

Now for my geography stupidity.
Is Fairhope close enough to Sarasota so that we might visit????

littlebug-peg said...

I saw it, too, in 3-D (not Imax though). I loved it for the special effects and I didn't mind that the plot was familiar (Dances with Wolves in the future in blue). Even the Na'vi language reminded me of Lakota Souix. Mary Lois, your postings are lovely.

Mary Lois said...

Welcome to the blog, Littlebug. Some have noted the resemblance to "Dances with Wolves" but that one bored me silly, and it was so long ago I've forgotten almost everything about it except the leaden performance by Kevin Costner and the glowing one by Mary McDonnell.