There's been so much written about Avatar since its release last month that hits the target but misses the bulls-eye. Right wing conservatives fear it is a call to eco-terrorism, the Vatican is afraid that it calls for a return to Paganism and Nature worship, minority writers see it as another example of white supremacy. Certainly many see it as anti-corporate and anti-military, and even more people see it as a call to defend the environment. So many perspectives and all right in their own way.
So let's look at some of what's being written before I get to the archetypal message of the movie.
Josh Schrei so aptly notes in his article (Avatar and the Vocabulary of Evildoers -- Why James Cameron's Script Isn't as Bad as you Think - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-schrei/avatar-and-the-vocabulary_b_413853.html) the dialogue in Avatar is very true to life. Yes, corporate leaders think and say very much the same things as we hear in the movie. The truth is, corporations and their leaders are the real eco-terrorists, not the indigenous peoples who are trying to stop them. Corporate leaders are the savages who haven't developed a moral compass about life. And so they twist reality to re-make themselves into the forces of good and life. It's the same delusional hypocrisy we've been hearing from our leaders now for the past decade. C.S. Lewis brilliantly portrayed this mind-boggling nonsense in his book (from the 50s) "That Hideous Strength".
Then we have the Vatican dissing the movie. Vatican Radio said it "cleverly winks at all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium" Nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship." Well, Nature is full of Divine Spirit, and while we might never be able to worship it as our ancestors did, we can very well understand that God/dess speaks to us through our natural world. I personally can attest to the healing power of honoring the Spirit in Nature, attuning to the seasonal changes, feeling how the Anima Mundi or World Soul is how the Divine Spirit manifests in all of life, not just humanity.
This is what good stories do! They make us think; they bring up emotions; they touch on our beliefs. So even without the Golden Globe to tell us this was the best story going this year, we all know that it is, because Avatar has affected hundreds of millions of people around the world. It has become one of our new collective myths.
Avatar's appeal is not just visual, it is visceral. Like the ancient myths, it gives form to new archetypal energies, new ways to see ourselves as a people. Woe to the corporations, because it speaks to people's hearts and makes us think about our lives and about our world. How it speaks to us and what we hear is filtered through what we believe and the emotions those beliefs bring up for us. This is what a good story does, makes us think about what we're feeling and valuing and hopefully teaching us to see a bigger picture.
So I'd like to take you on a Jungian exploration of the film so you can see the archetypal depth of meaning there, and know why so many people are drawn to the story.
Carl Jung's work with fairy tales indicates that they are the bare bones of archetypal stories, and symbolic of an archetype's energies and purpose. Archetypes are known through their symbols and the stories those symbols create - such as myths, and later when Christianity banned the old myths, the fairy tales they became, passed on through the generations, stories about how to deal with life.
The beginning of a fairy tale always sets up the initial situation in life: A king and queen long for a child indicates that the collective culture (the king and queen) cannot produce new life. Without new life and energy, a culture dies. The beginning of the story tells us where the problem or the wound is.
At the beginning of Avatar, we hear and see Jake, our wounded hero. His scientist twin brother has died and he is enticed to take his place on Pandora to make enough money to get his legs working. As he watches his brother's body incinerate, he thinks: He was the brains and now he's gone. Jake wonders if he'll be able to finish his brother's work, since Jake is the brawn of the pair. Jake was a Marine who sees himself as a grunt doing what needs doing, and now he is left with only his wounded body. He is paralyzed, and has no standpoint.
So the situation in the kingdom is that there is a wound to our warrior nature, a wound that affects our standpoint. When I say warrior nature, I mean not only our soldiers, but the warrior within each of us that is willing to fight for what we believe in. When we lose our belief in the system, we are wounded. We have no real standpoint because we are paralyzed. What can I believe in? The not-knowing keeps us paralyzed. So the story starts off right away with the questions, what do you believe in and what are you willing to fight for?
Using military personnel to symbolize this state of being is (1) true to life, since private companies like Blackwater came on the scene, and (2) symbolic of what happens to warrior energy when it has nothing to believe in anymore; it only works for money, it gets cruel, and in the end, it operates out of fear. The Colonel is a character whose outlook on the job is based in fear, which comes out as violent aggression. He is afraid of the Na'vi because they're better warriors than he is. And so he retreats to "pumping iron" and encasing himself in a metal monster to fight. FEAR rules him. He is not a warrior, but a coward.
This is the shadow that Jake has to face, because he too lives in fear that he'll never walk again. The need to heal his body is what keeps his hopes alive as Jake begins to inhabit his avatar. This is the second wound in the story, the wound to the body itself. Jake needs to become "embodied' again: he wants his legs back. When he gets those legs in his avatar body, he remembers his old skills and opens himself to learning new things.
This is the biggest issue we all face in our culture. We need to get back into our bodies. People in the West are 'dis-embodied'. We all live in our heads - otherwise, how could we stand the ugliness and pollution and continuing rape of our natural world? And so our bodies suffer with disease and from eating disorders. How have we come so far away from the body knowledge that is our heritage? How could we come to the point where we actually destroy our environment in our pursuit of wealth and power? Who wants to live in a dead world? Not me!
The freedom and joy of the body moving, leaping, daring is a major component of this story, just as Pandora's beauty compliments the body's freedom. The corporate people live in metal boxes, without beauty or free movement; the walking which was such a big part of the game of golf is reduced to putting in the office.
The Na'vi live in their bodies. That means they use their bodies to live, and not just to carry around a brain! And it doesn't mean they go work out at a gym and think they live in their bodies. They move through their day, depending on their body's wisdom, strength and curiosity. Many people long for the ability to have those Na'vi hair endings that can unit them to magical horses and amazing dragons. If people spent most of their time out in nature, they would develop a similar organ of perception that unites them to nature. We can feel at one with nature if we choose to really go out into it and live there. Our culture has cut us off from the natural cycles of Life, one reason we allow Nature's destruction. If we were conscious of our body's responses to life, we wouldn't allow corporations to poison our air, water, food, and bodies in pursuit of wealth. That's not a good enough reason to kill our planet and all of us on it.