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Avatar

February 15, 2017

avAs an avatar operator on the Planet Pandora, paraplegic ex-marine Jake Sully can walk again – and even ride on the backs of flying dragons – as he enters the unspoilt, beautiful world of the Na’avi people. But human greed for a valuable mineral is about to destroy all this. Jake faces a stark choice: whose side will he be on?

Themes: Care for the environment, disability, materialism and big business, encountering other cultures, mating for life, spirituality, prayer, virtual reality and computer worlds

An epic story of interplanetary exploration and the consequent effects on the humans and aliens involved.

It is 2154 and a mining corporation has established a base on Pandora, a moon of the plant Polyphemus in the Alpha Centauri system. The corporation is there to exploit Pandora’s rich supply of Unobtanium, a valuable source of energy. Marines are employed as security, because Pandora is inhabited by tall blue-skinned creatures – the Na’vi – who are resistant to their land being plundered. Alongside the aggressive tactics of Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), the head of the mining operation, and of Colonel Miles Quaritch, the leader of the security forces, a scientific experiment is in progress which might win the hearts and minds of the Na’vi and so also win their precious minerals.

The leader of the scientific project is Grace Augustine who has developed human/Na’vi hybrids. These ‘avatars’, which are Na’vi in appearance but driven by human operators, have made contact and built relationships with the indigenous Na’vi. But the progress is not fast enough for the mining company’s management. Into this situation comes Jake Sully, a paraplegic marine, who is the only possible, although not ideal, replacement for his murdered twin brother as no one else would be able to connect with his avatar. Dr  Augustine is concerned about his lack of training and negligible science background, but she has no choice but to go with Jake. But Jake adapts to the task better  than expected …

 

Martin Luther wrote about the two realms – secular and spiritual. Avatar presents us with two such contrasts: the ‘secular’ world of the mining company – where money is the driving force – and the ‘spiritual’ world of the Na’vi, who have an understanding that all life is spiritually connected through their god, Eywa. There is also a contrast between the world in which Jake Sully is a paraplegic in a wheelchair and another in which he can run and jump and ride on the backs  of  fantastic  creatures.

Does Jake Sully’s experience as a Na’vi avatar have anything to say to us about the difference between earthly and heavenly bodies?

Might a person who experiences disablement in this life experience a differently-abled heavenly body, or is disablement intrinsic to who we are?

The Na’vi’s relationship with creation was very different from that of the mining company. Does the mining company represent a Western lifestyle based on continuing consumption of resources? If so, how consistent is this lifestyle it with the pattern of stewardship presented in Genesis?

The conflict between the mining company and the Na’vi could be seen to represent any number of real-life conflicts between people with different world-views: e.g. the conquest of North America, Africa and Australasia by European settlers, the Vietnam War and the ‘War on Terror’.

The film’s special effects draw the viewer into a world full of fabulous plant and animal life. We experience with Jake Sully the wonderment of being in this new world. How we can learn to look at the wonderful world in which we live with fresh eyes?

When Jake Sully arrives on Pandora in his wheelchair one of the marines describes him as ‘meals on wheels.’ The implication is that, because he’s disabled, he’s

completely useless. Jake is clearly fed up with being told what to do and treated as helpless. When he first tries out his avatar body he gets carried away because he so enjoys having working legs again.

In Na’vi culture when someone chooses a partner, they choose them for life. This is a big thing. Having chosen Neytiri Jake finds himself wondering if he’s done the right thing.

The story of Jake Sully in Avatar parallels that Of Christ. Both came down  to a strange planet, being at the same time fully human and fully ‘something’ else. Neither had it easy – both struggled to be accepted by the people they came to, yet both ended being the saviour for the people that they came to. (Though Christ didn’t use violence). There is a hint of resurrection at the end.

The Na’vi language was created entirely from scratch by linguist Dr. Paul R. Frome. James Cameron hired him to construct a language that the actors could pronounce easily, but did not resemble any single human language. Frommer created about 1,000 words.

According to James Cameron, the Na’vi are blue to create a conceptual parallel with traditional Hindu depictions of God (e.g., Vishnu and his later “avatars”–a Sanskrit word meaning “a manifestation of divinity in bodily form”–such as Rama, Krishna, etc.) but also because Cameron just liked the color blue.

The book Grace picks up in the abandoned school is called “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss. Like the plot of the film, the book is about a forest full of beautiful trees and mystical creatures that are destroyed by man’s lust for ever growing industry.

The word “na’vi” in Hebrew means prophet. A na’vi is a visionary or someone who communicates directly with God. Its plural, nevi’im, also refers to the prophetic books of the bible, which include “Daniel,” “Micah,” and “Isaiah.”

In James Cameron movies, allies to the main characters often have Catholic references. In Aliens (1986), this ally was called “Bishop;” in The Abyss (1989), it was “Monk.” In “Avatar,” Sigourney Weaver plays a character called Grace Augustine. Saint Augustine was a Catholic monk who brought Christianity to pagan England, and became Archbishop. One manner of address for an Archbishop is “Your Grace.”

Mo’at, the spiritual leader of the tribe, is referred to by the title “Tsahik.” This name sounds remarkably similar to the Hebrew “Tsaddik,” meaning an individual of outstanding virtue and piety. The term is often applied to an especially knowledgeable interpreter of Biblical law and scriptures.

The tree, Eh’wa, also bears a resemblance to the Hindi/Aramic/Urdu word “Hewa,” which, in English, means “Eve.” “Eve” in Hebrew means “The Giver of Life,” an entity from which all life arises. Also, in the Bible, Eve is tempted to eat from the Tree. The word na’vi bears close resemblance to the Hindi/Urdu word for Nabi, meaning “prophet.” “Avatar” is Hindi for the “incarnated one.” Lord Krishna was one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu. Some Hindus believe that Lord Buddha was also an avatar of Vishnu, preceding Krishna.

When Jake is examining his ponytail, Dr. Augustine states, “Don’t play with that, you’ll go blind.” This is a common phrase that is taught to adolescent boys (referencing their genitalia) to discourage them from masturbating. It is shown later in the film that the Na’vi use their ponytails to link their minds during mating.

[Grace is showing pictures of the Na’vi to Jake so he remembers them] Dr. Grace Augustine: Okay, let’s run through them again.

Jake Sully: [Sees a picture] Mo’at. Dragon lady. [Sees next picture]: Eytukan.

Dr. Grace Augustine: [Says the name correctly] Ey-tu-“kahn”. He’s the clan leader. But she’s the spiritual leader. Like a shaman.

Jake Sully: Got it. [Sees next picture]: Tah-soo-tey.

Dr. Grace Augustine: [Says the name correctly] Tsu’tey.

Jake Sully: Tsu’tey.

Dr. Grace Augustine: He’ll be the next clan leader.

Jake Sully: [Sees next picture] Neytiri.

Dr. Grace Augustine: She’ll be the next “Tsahik”. They become a mated pair.

Jake Sully: So who’s this Eywa?

Norm Spellman: Who’s Eywa? Only their deity! Their goddess, maker of all living things. Everything they know! You’d know this if you’ve had any training whatsoever.

Jake Sully: [Shows him Neytiri’s picture] Who’s got a date with the chief’s daughter?

Norm Spellman: Oh, come on!

Dr. Grace Augustine: [to Jake and Norm] Knock it off you two. Village life starts early.

[to Jake]

Dr. Grace Augustine: Don’t do anything unusually stupid.

[Jake grins as Grace rolls her eyes at him before closing the pod]

 

Jake Sully: [as Jake pleads for Eywa’s help in attacking the “Sky People”] If Grace is there with you – look in her memories – she can show you the world we come from. There’s no green there. They killed their Mother, and they’re gonna do the same here. More Sky People are gonna come. They’re gonna come like a rain that never ends. Unless we stop them. They chose me for something. I will stand and fight. You know I will. But I need a little help here.

Neytiri: Our great mother does not take sides, Jake; she protects the balance of life.

Jake Sully: It was worth a try.

 

Jake Sully: I see you, Brother… thank you. [kills prey]: Your spirit will now be with Eywa, but your body will remain for The People.

 

Jake Sully: [collector’s extended cut] You want a fair deal? You’re on the wrong planet. The strong prey on the weak, it’s just the way things are. And nobody does a damned thing.

 

Selfridge: Look. You’re supposed to be winning the hearts and minds of the natives. Isn’t that the whole point of your little puppet show? If you walk like them, you talk like them, they’ll trust you. We build them a school, teach them English. But after – how many years – the relations with the indigenous are only getting worse.

Dr. Grace Augustine: Yeah, well that tends to happen when you use machine guns on them.

Selfridge: Right. C’mere. You see this? [shows Grace the sample of Unobtanium on his desk]: This is why we’re here. Because this little gray rock sells for $20 million a kilo. That’s the only reason. This is what pays for the whole party, and it’s what pays for your science. Those savages are threatening our whole operation. We’re on the brink of war and you’re supposed to be finding me a diplomatic solution. So use what you’ve got, and get me some results.

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