Wednesday, January 06, 2010

My Avatar

This is what I look like when I am inhabiting my Sexiest Man Alive avatar when visiting Planet Stud.

The more I think about Avatar, and the further removed I am from the visual extravaganza, the less I like it. James Cameron raised a real dilemma in this movie, and then totally dropped the ball in its ethical resolution. And no, I'm not talking about the cartoonish portrayal of imperialist money grubbing. I'm talking about the choice facing Jake Sully: the choice between reality and virtual reality. It's the dilemma we're slapped in the face with every time Mr. Macho Marine tells Sully that if he does a good job, he'll make sure he gets his legs back. Sully, of course, as part of his Na'vi avatar, already has full use of his legs (and a bitchin' tail!). The clear implication -- and one that is borne out later in the movie -- is that it makes no sense to choose reality when one can have a better, happier virtual reality.

So ... do you believe that?

That, to me, is where the real debate about this film ought to be occurring. Who is Sully? Is he the wheelchair-bound Marine vet, or is he the nimble Na'vi hero/warrior? In a world in which the lines between fantasy and reality are increasingly blurred, it behooves us to answer that question for ourselves.


Zena and Joshua said...

You're so right: Avatar is the triumph of fantasy over reality, in more ways than just the technology. I read an interesting take on it, somewhere, the writer remembering that the early part of this past decade were about escaping the Matrix, the Fight Club, the Idioteque, into Reality, but that it appears we've done a 180 and decided it's better to take the blue pill.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute, either the whole movie was fantasy or none of it. In the context of the story, the Na'vi and their world are just as real as the one that Sully inhabits. In fact, they inhabit the same world. It's just that Sully experiences it in two different bodies: his own and that of a Na'vi body, which he is only able to inhabit because it was designed for his brother who's DNA is a close match with his own. The whole movie is a fantasy in that such a "transprojection" is technologically possible. But again, in the context of the story, it's ending reminded me of 1 Cor. 15:42,53-4. I'm kinda looking forward to getting a new body, but I sure hope it doesn't look like your avatar. :-)

Andy Whitman said...

Okay, Paul, that's fair enough. So let me rephrase what I wrote: Avatar offers us the choice between two realities. In one reality, the protagonist is a wheelchair-bound veteran. In the other reality, he is a running, jumping, very tall and blue dude-like being with a tail.

This isn't cosmetic surgery. This is assuming a different identity, with entirely different physical capabilities and limitations. Obviously Jake's life is preferable in his new identity. But the film raises all kinds of ethical dilemmas for me, ranging from the efficacy of cosmetic surgery to genetic engineering to the gnostic implications of being able to leave behind a useless body and take on a better, more powerful, bluer one.

James Cameron didn't really explore those issues. In the adolescent world that he perpetually portrays on screen, it's always a choice between fleeing a restrictive hellhole vs. embracing the freedom of Eden. Duh. Which one do you think most people would choose? But I'm not convinced that pursuing the path of pleasure and freedom is always the best way to go. Maybe the real action is when life is really difficult, useless legs and all.

That's a different movie, of course. I think it was called "Coming Home," and starred Jane Fonda and Jon Voight. But it bugs me a bit that Cameron is so glib and facile in his portrayal of these choices. It bugs me that he is apparently even unaware of these choices, and what they might mean.

Brother-in-law Bill said...

I have purposely not seen the movie, because in reading reviews it sounded like conventional plot with whiz bang special effects and animation, which I tend to avoid unless it's done by Pixar, because they usually manage to come up with a better plot. What I hear you saying, Andy, is that he actually had a potentially great plot and either didn't realize it or, as I suspect, knew that in Hollywood, the choice is obvious.

Anonymous said...

You make some very good points, Andy. I see your point about the ethical dilemmas and agree with it. I think it's good that whatever new body we inherit won't be one of our choice or design.

I also agree with Bill's impression from reviews. The plot was lame and predictable. I expected that since I'd been warned by others. I saw it because I was curious about the 3D effects and technology used. I think the experience was over hyped. It wasn't that outstanding compared to other 3D movies I've seen.

Eriol said...

The way that the movie bothered me was in how a visual effect was somehow more intense then the actual 3-d space. Shortly, I realized it was the passivity that made it more intense. It's another dilemma for the movie and the time being--passivity vs. activity.

Another 3-d movie on the opposite side of the fence would be Coraline, where in the end the hero chooses reality and her nature.

nancy (aka moneycoach) said...

As someone living in northern Canada, anything (!) that advances, in pop culture, the notion that indigenous people just might have something of value that the rest of us ought to pay attention to instead of run roughshod (oh YES that still goes on) over has to have my vote.

Pilgrim said...

Parents on the DS list are having a discussion of whether Down syndrome should be "cured." It's a little weird, coming here from there.