Avatar (2009) in my mind was the hype that delivered. People who got interested early on watched mainly for two reasons: it’s promise of a vivid graphics-fest, and a sharp ideological line that one doesn’t expect to hit commercial theaters. With nothing else but formula MMFF fare to watch, catching Avatar late is one of the best unexpected windfalls to date.
The aesthetic premise was enough to ensure that Avatar will make it to the mainstream. From the human mecha and infrastructure to the lush Na’vi ecosystem, the design of Pandorra succeeded in plunging the audience deep into perceived reality, and the additional 3D effect of IMax was unnecessary icing on the cake.
Indeed, the plot and even some aspects of Avatar’s mythos is far from being original. Among every similarities that critics have mentioned, Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind are the ones I’m most familiar with. But the socio-political climate where it found itself in, where man faces the consequences of the oppressive dominant classes’ rape of nature and fellow men, made its story fresh and flourishing.
The Na’vi’s anthropoid features and primitive motif are grade-A stereotypes of indigenous “savages”, as are the “John Smith conquers the New World” arsenal and rhetoric of the corporation and its mercenaries. Despite this, a few innovations such as the Na’vi’s adaptive biological ability to connect and commune with its immediate environment, give Avatar its much needed unique identity.
Much political and cultural lessons can be gleaned from Avatar. The ecological and revolutionary overtones are obvious enough, with the former apparent in Na’vi culture developing self-sufficiently in harmony with its environment, and the latter in Jake Sully’s immersion and eventually being one with their indigenous culture and eventual participation in their struggle against oppression, much like proletarian remolding. Scientists should learn from how the Na’vi was able to sustain and develop its cultural and (bio)technological practices with non-antagonistic relationships towards nature and fellow organisms.
Faith and the people’s revolution are concepts inseperable in the plot’s course. Faith in Pandora is largely grounded in biological reality: Nature, worshipped as deity by the Na’vi, exists like a brain of global proportions, with the roots of its massive trees act like nerves that transmits synapses that the Na’vi can biologically connect into, much like downloading and uploading information through the Internet.
In our reality, faith similarly exists as a reality to people, given that it generates a sociological reality that tangibly affect people. A timely reading of a quote from contemporary communist Slavoj Zizek comes to mind:
“Yes, there is a direct lineage from Christianity to Marxism; yes, Christianity and Marxism should fight on the same side of the barricade against the onslaught of new spiritualisms – the authentic Christian legacy is much too precious to be left to the fundamentalist freaks.”
The way class conflict is resolved here, where huge chunks of the indigenous population is lost for the lack of guerrilla tactics and baseless belief in salvation appears to come from the individual instead of the collective berth of the Na’vi tribes, leaves much to be desired for people already fueled by social theories, however such should be expected given that the movie is a brainchild of James Cameron and not Chairman Mao. We should appreciate its critique of imperialism and its damages to the environment, its validation of popular resistance, and advocacy of armed struggle as the answer to the oppressor’s violent reaction to the people’s assertion of sovereignty.
The turning point of the story culminated with the Pandora deity’s mobilization of Nature’s entire arsenal, as a response to Jake Sully’s uplink with the Home Tree requesting for assistance in the struggle. In Avatar‘s reality, the ritual of prayer is completely biological, in the form of Na’vi interacting with Nature’s psychic data. Prayer in our reality, though metaphysical, can similarly be realized only if the people themselves take action in achieving the objectives of prayer, as the old “Nasa Diyos ang Awa, Nasa Tao ang Gawa” (In God is the Mercy, In Man is the Action) saying goes.
No matter what the attempt of deviant factions from both the left and right political spectrums to dismiss the lessons that can be learned here, Avatar’s message remains clear and irrefutable: To rebel is justified, liberation comes to those who fight for it, and revolution can only succeed if it is a revolution of the people.