Thinking Allowed - Including musings by Daan Spijer.

From the Kitchen

January 20, 2010

From the Kithcen #35

Every now and then we are treated to a thoroughly entertaining film that also carries important messages.  Avatar is such a film.

Most discussion I’ve heard and read has been about the spectacular computer graphics, the amazing scenery, the fast-paced action and the violence.  Only a few people have mentioned the powerful underlying issues the film deals with: corporate greed; corporate-military collaboration; the treatment of ‘people not like us’ as inferior to us; the possibility of a strong connection of a people with their environment; the possibility of a planetary intelligence; connection with a numinous presence.

Maybe it’s that the film is a 3-D production – the visual feast blinds us to the deeper layers.  And a visual feast it truly is.  The interface between ‘flesh and blood’ reality and computer-generated reality is seamless and the scenery is breathtaking.

My wife pointed out to me how much the graphic elements of the film borrow from earlier designs: Lord of the Rings; Laputa, Castle in the Sky; and, of course, Roger Dean’s cover art for the Yessongs album by the group ‘Yes’.  But it has always been so and this is probably a good thing, as it gives viewers a number of familiar reference points.  Also, it is likely that in 2154 technology will have moved way past, for instance, the computer screens depicted in the film, but the familiar has us feel comfortable.  Such familiarity allows the artist/designer to move along, developing themes, stretching what people will go along with before they are pulled into something they cannot accept as plausible.

What I find sobering and sad, is that more than a hundred years into the future humans are depicted as still not having given up their greed and violence.  Maybe they never will.  There are people who believe that there will always be such humans, along with ones who abhor them and will do whatever they can to thwart them.  Maybe there will always be an ebb and flow of violence and peace; the undulations happening in both time and space.

Those of us who are on the side of peace and cooperation and ‘doing unto others as we would have them do unto us’, are very precious about our stance because, naturally, we are correct in this.  But what if those who would have their way with violence and terror are (also) right?  What if greed is the better motivator for human development?

We, the pacifists, talk of love and karma and being one with everything and, I declare, we are right in living out these beliefs.  However, I have seen many peace-loving warriors hit the greedy and violent over the head with their rightness – literally and figuratively.  Intolerance is ugly, whatever it is promoting.

Avatar depicts the violence perpetrated when those who want to get their hands on something they consider precious will do so at any cost.  Usually at someone else’s cost.  The precious commodity can be oil or gold or farming land or forest resources.  In our time it is also likely to be clean water.  (In the film, it is the wryly named ‘unobtanium’.)  There is an irony in this: those who ‘own’ what is being coveted often don’t regard it as precious in the sense of having a price on it.  It is, however, often a valued, even central, element of their culture.  It is not a tradable commodity to them, as it is to the outsider.  It’s removal, however, can cause the destruction of their society.

Some invaders have recognised that in the society they want to destroy, there may be something the removal of which will take the ‘soul’ out of that society.  The film clearly recognises this and shows how cynical the invaders can be about it.  It is the invaders cynicism that marks them as truly inferior to those they seek to vanquish.

What Avatar also strongly portrays is that, if you take the time and trouble to really get to know another people or another group, you start to be able to see the universe as they do.  Hurting them then becomes much more difficult, if not impossible.  By depicting others as less than human, even as no more than animals, you give yourself permission to mistreat them, although this begs the questions of whether animals should ever be mistreated.  Avatar also accurately depicts what can happen when a group that covets what another group has, sends in a spy to learn that other group’s weaknesses.  The spy can start to identify with the others and even become their champion.  The way the greedy group deals with this is to depict the spy as having become less than human by his or her identification with the others.  Any wisdom and insight that the spy brings back can thus be easily dismissed.  This has often been the case where a member of an invading ‘white’ culture has gone ‘native’ and then stood up for the indigenes, only to find that his or her testimony is ignored because it does not suit the invaders.

The wonderful device used in Avatar is to actually get in to another’s skin.  If we could all do that …

© 2010 Daan Spijer

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  1. Well … Daan, I was wanting to see the movie Avatar but on reading your assesment of it, it sounds too violent for me. I, like yourself, want others to treat their fellow man equally. I loathe cruelty in any shape or form . Our God made all men/women equal and that is how this world should live … but with so much greed and tyrany … the good of the world has a long battle ahead.

    Daan, with your knowledge, look into the discrepancies of normal householders’ astronomical power/water and telephone bills. If the reader of the power metre can not get in the yard to read the metre they put in an estimate and if this reading seems low, they add the surmised amount to the next bill, thus $1,000.00+ FOR THE HOUSE HOLDER.

    Comment by Shirley Hassen — January 25, 2010 @ 1:25 pm
  2. Shirley,
    Don’t let my comments (in my blog) put you off seeing the film. I was also hesitant because of the violence mentioned in reviews but, in its context in the film, the violence portrayed is appropriate. See it with 3-D glasses and enjoy the ride and the thoughts the film will provoke.

    Comment by Daan — January 25, 2010 @ 1:55 pm
  3. Not to mention getting inside the skin of a wheel-chair bound man .. what a GREAT teaching.
    He could have chosen an able bodied man, but yet another lesson in Compassion & Understanding.
    I LOVED it .. like no other film EVER ..
    It’s PURE Genious & Joy & Love.
    Thanks for sharing Daan.

    Comment by Kathie — January 28, 2010 @ 4:40 am

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