Sunday, December 27, 2009

Avatar eyes

The word avatar has come into very loose use, to say the least, since gamers have appropriated it to refer to a virtual incarnation within a reality construct. No longer is it merely the domain of Hindu deities to take a body to play in the earthly dimension, but in the Age of Immanence all of us earth dwellers can follow suit, suiting ourselves in magical skin to fly through other worlds. Now, James Cameron in his ground-breaking movie Avatar, has delivered a complete visual and sensory experience of this shape-shifting phenomenon to millions of filmgoers (especially in 3D of course).

Although the movie can be faulted for a lack of conceptual originality and perhaps trite characterization, it seems petty to quibble about what it is not in the light of what it accomplishes in communicating about the impending evolutionary change that impacts us. The race of Na'vi are profoundly connected to the life and consciousness of the planet and like many indigenous tribes on Earth come up somewhat short when having to defend themselves against death-dealing high-tech civilizations (although they find hidden resources in this case). In this story, a soldier of no particular distinction gets the chance to inhabit an avataric body and to live among the Na'vi and learn their ways. In his human life he is paralyzed from the waist down; in his Na'vi body he can run through giant trees, leap into space swinging on vines, ride on flying dragons, and do many things, in short, we would all like to be able to do, including win the love of a beautiful Na'vi princess.

What separates this from the plethora of wish-fulfillment superhero adolescent fantasies that we have been overexposed to in the movies the last few decades? Two things at least: the participatory feel of the transformation into a new body that makes us want to thoroughly embrace it ourselves, and the sense of merging into a communal and planetary consciousness that is fundamentally different from the narcissistic superhero model.

The last shot of the film is the newly opened eyes of the hero who has been completely reborn in his Na'vi body. As the Na'vi say when they meet each other, "I see you." May we all start seeing each other, for real, in our new birth.