Sunday, January 10, 2010

AVATAR: An Indigenous Perspective

We at Falcon and Dove wrote a very general review about three weeks ago about James Cameron’s latest achievement, Avatar, and advised everyone, and we mean everyone…to see it.

Well, thanks World Family for apparently taking our advice! As of Wednesday, January 6, Avatar moved into the Number Two position of all time world gross box office receipts behind, you guessed it…Titanic, another James Cameron film. It passed The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King, and as of Friday January 8 sits at 1.75 billion. Titanic is at 1.8 billion, so it seems entirely conceivable that it may become the top box office grossing film of all time. That is staggering, especially considering it is only 21 days into release.

Is it that good? Well, yes. Not just because of the landmark special effects breakthroughs, but because it tells a very important story in subtle, interpersonal, intimate ways without losing its character, or the larger themes it embodies. That task is rarely accomplished, yet James Cameron has done it repeatedly in his films.

Many reviews have been written about this film, and very few of them talk about what the film is actually about. Some have touched on the films deeper meaning, but even those have missed the mark in some respects, even though they were very well meaning. There is a message that is so deep that it is felt on a level that surprises many after seeing it. It reaches into our most sacred archetypes of connectedness, and asks us to remember our most sacred edict: thrive, respect all blessings, and help others to do the same.

It is extremely hard to put into words where this film can take you, and although most of this review doesn‘t spoil the overall film, I would caution those who haven’t yet seen it that there will be plot devices revealed here. It is my hope not to give away too much, while also providing a necessary perspective to the discussion that is so obviously absent elsewhere.

Avatar can be enjoyed by the masses because it has universal understanding and appeal. It is a very different tale for indigenous people, however. James Cameron placed elegant and respectful elements that he knew would not be seen by all, but would be appreciated by many. I am going to attempt to describe in words what is nearly indescribable, and hope that I do these elements some small justice. There are some I will not mention because they are so sacred to indigenous people that to attempt to use mere words would appear arrogant and inadequate.

Falcon appreciates the use of the braid of hair as a device of connectedness to other sacred creatures and to Eywa herself. It was a visual device to show an invisible but tangible and very real connection we all have with our earth, something I have noticed has not been mentioned in any review I have seen. I have even seen references that said we don’t have that kind of relationship to our earth. That would be woefully incorrect-it is in that forgetting that Avatar attempts to remind us of our sacred connection to all living things. We have a network very similar to that of Pandora-some of us have cut our chords, or they are lost. They must be regained.

Everything that exists physically already existed spiritually and non-physically. The chair I sit on was an idea; then a spark, that combined with materials of the earth and physical design and artistry became the chair it is. The Internet is simply a physical (technological, not touchable) manifestation of what already existed in the non-physical. The network of Pandora is the network of all things on earth; there is no difference. Many of us just don’t see it.

Every corner of Avatar’s Sci-fantasy world is filled; yet it appears as natural as a workroom in our own world, or a laboratory we have visited with better equipment. There are little things that no dialog is added to-some funny, some not so funny. Jake obviously had some Jarhead buddies put a bumper sticker on the back of his wheel chair so that where his name once appeared, the ‘Jake’ was covered up with ‘Grunt’. You just had to catch it. There is a dream catcher handing up on the wall in the office of the corporate pin-head, although Grace probably put it there…and yes, it is on the correct wall. Pretty cool.

Indigenous people understood Netiri’s initial anger with Jake concerning his ‘rescue’-sacred 4-legged lives were lost because of his foolishness. She offered a prayer up over their bodies, and reduced their suffering. This is something inherent in our indigenous spiritual system of understanding and practice of the hunt. Even in my rural home location, anything that was hit along the road I would go out, assist them along their way, and offer a prayer with tobacco and sage. We are never without them. We understand the concept and practice of a clean kill, and never wasting a life. We know that the animal’s or plant’s sacrifice is so that we can live, and we honor that. Cameron made sure the Na’vi honored their kills as well.

After Jake’s manhood ritual, The People formed a sacred web around him, demonstrating that he was now a scared part of all with the Na’vi. Again, no words are used; it is understood by those who recognize it, yet not necessary to those who don’t and not needed to understand the overall plotline. It does enrich the experience, however, if you do.

It takes three strands of the sacred chords to hear the voices of the ancestors-that is a natural law, and a spiritual one-honored in James Cameron’s vision on Pandora. Healing happens there-prayers are made, and always heard. Sometimes, the answer is no to the request. Sometimes the answer is ‘not yet’. Jake’s prayers are heard when Eywa clearly has animals respond to defend their most sacred site, and even the most fierce acquiesce to being ridden by warriors in order to preserve the balance of the world. Netiri announces that loudly during the battle and is offered a ride by one fierce predator after her sacred beast is slain.

The most difficult scene in the film for me personally was what happened at Home Tree. It is a life moment nearly every living indigenous person has a personal reference for; not from stories, but from loss in sacred space, flesh, and blood. It is the same for Falcon, and these atrocities continue in our world. Even some of the sternest souls had their eyes betray them in the theatre and wept at this scene. The real pain was not in the destruction alone, but the short-sightedness and arrogance with which the acts play out. So out of balance with divine consciousness was this moment, that some of the characters involved in the fray turn away from the battle and refuse to participate. So powerful have some of these images been that people have stood up in theatres at the end of screenings and spoke out against the atrocities that are paralleled on our own world.

Falcon has NEVER seen that in a movie theatre before.

The sacred tree seed spirits that are considered blessings by the Na’vi are a delightful presence, as are the scenes of beautiful rainforest, day and night that delight the senses. There are subtle sounds that are reminders of our collective sacredness, and asks us to get back to the proverbial garden.

The key message to all in Avatar in Falcon’s opinion: remember our own sacredness, our connections, and our resourcefulness. Do not squander our sacred gifts, but learn to share them and protect them with fierce determination, and do not fall victim to hubris and myopic arrogance. It is a hopeful film, exquisitely beautiful, and profoundly paradigm shifting-in effects, technology, and consciousness. Cameron could have hedged and blinked, he didn’t. Neither should we.

Remember who we are and why we are here.


To read Dove’s review, go to:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Your blog sums up what I was feeling and thinking after seeing Avatar last night. It really has had a profound effect on me and left me thinking about how disconnected I and most of society has become from 'Mother Earth'.